Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) members are split on President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) handling of an incident last week in which a group of Taiwanese activists tried to reach the disputed Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), with some saying it was a highly questionable approach, and others saying it was well-calculated.
Early on Thursday, a fishing boat carrying seven crew and activists, and escorted by four Coast Guard Administration vessels, sailed from Shenao Port (深澳漁港) in New Taipei City (新北市) to the Diaoyutais — known as the Senkakus in Japan — to assert Taiwan’s claim over the islands, but was blocked by Japan Coast Guard vessels.
The Ma administration said the activity was legal, but DPP Central Executive Committee member Hung Chi-kune (洪智坤) wrote on his Facebook page yesterday that the journey attempted by the Quanjiafu (全家福) was illegal because it is registered as a recreational fishing boat and as such, it is limited to operating within 24 nautical miles (44.4km) of Taiwan and Penghu by the Regulations for Recreational Fishery (娛樂漁業管理辦法).
Hung added that the protest would not have happened without the approval of a national security panel, which includes Ma, the National Security Council, the Ministry of National Defense, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Mainland Affairs Council and the Coast Guard Administration.
Regardless of what led the president to approve the protest, the incident jeopardized diplomatic and military ties with Japan and the US, and could be seen as a challenge to the US-Japan Security Treaty, Hung said.
Upcoming fisheries talks between Taiwan and Japan could be postponed, and Taiwan-US trade talks could also be affected, he said.
“Ma has to be held accountable for this and explain his decisionmaking process,” Hung said.
Also assessing the situation on his Facebook page, former DPP Legislator Julian Kuo (郭正亮) said that Ma’s decision was “well-calculated.”
While Ma understood that the protest could hurt the planned fisheries talks, he decided not to block the protest because it could make it easier to negotiate with China on issues such as securing Beijing’s agreement to allow Taiwan to join the International Civil Aviation Organization, Kuo said.
Meanwhile, Taiwanese Representative to the US King Pu-tsung (金溥聰) would be responsible for reassuring Washington that Taiwan did not collaborate with China on the matter, Kuo added.
The launch of a fresh round of fisheries talks, which could benefit Taiwanese fishermen, would likely antagonize Beijing and expose the Ma administration’s vulnerabilities, Kuo said.
“If Taiwan agreed to have its fishing boats inspected by Japan before entering the disputed waters, it means that Taiwan tacitly recognizes Japan’s administration rights over the islands. If Taiwan disagrees, then talks would likely break down,” Kuo said.
If Tokyo decides to postpone negotiations indefinitely, “it would serve Ma well because it would be perceived as an irrational reaction from Japanese right-wing politicians,” Kuo said.