Former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) yesterday proposed an initiative to demilitarize the disputed Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) and turn them into a protected marine zone.
At a press conference at her office in Taipei, Lu said that while Taiwan’s sovereignty of the islands — known in Japan as the Senkakus — is indisputable, the initiative advocates a three-step approach to resolve their status.
Taiwan, China and Japan all claim sovereignty over the islands, which are located in the East China Sea.
“I am here today to submit the Diaoyutais peace initiative, which calls for demilitarization of the region, designation of the region as a protected marine zone and the ultimate goal of the neutrality of the islands and Taiwan,” Lu said.
Lu said she was submitting the proposal, which was different from President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) East China Sea peace initiative, for the first time in Taiwan after raising it during a speech in December last year in the US and in Manila earlier this year.
Lu said both initiatives call for peace and setting aside sovereignty disputes. However, Ma’s tended to take a position similar to China’s, while she intended to shape territorial claims based on Taiwanese identity and history.
The proposal echoes the views of Academia Sinica research fellow Sung Yen-hui (宋燕輝), an expert on South China Sea affairs, who proposed making the region a no-fly, no-fishing and no-navigation zone and, contrary to Ma’s call for joint development, advocated the “joint non-development” of the area’s resources by all claimants, she said.
The initiative was formed in the same spirit as the Antarctic Treaty of 1959, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of 1971 and the Red Sea Marine Peace Park, established in 1994 to protect the ecosystem of the semi-enclosed Gulf of Aqaba, Lu added.
The former vice president said she was non-committal on Taiwanese fishermen’s attempts to reach the Diaoyutais to safeguard their fishing rights, adding that the matter should be resolved through diplomatic means.
“As the East China Sea and South China Sea issues are ‘touchstones’ of the US’ rebalancing policy in Asia, it is important for Taiwan to win US support if it wanted to fight a war over the Diaoyutais,” Tamkang University professor Wong Ming-hsien (翁明賢) said.
Taiwan would have to maintain good relations with Japan if it wanted to protect the fishing rights of Taiwanese fishermen and be very cautious in its approach to the dispute so that it’s moves would not be interpreted as collaboration with China, Wong added.
Wong said that recent approaches by the Ma administration to the dispute had been interpreted by Washington as cross-strait cooperation and added that discussions of sovereignty and fishing rights should be separated.
“Sovereignty could be the last thing on the fishermen’s minds, as they care most about their livelihoods, but when you talk about sovereignty, the question of ‘whose sovereignty’ — China’s or Taiwan’s — is inevitable,” Wong said.
Chuang Ching-ta (莊慶達), a professor at National Taiwan Ocean University, said APEC would be an ideal platform to present Lu’s proposals, which are in line with global trends.
Based on the geographical factor of the continental shelf, history and at least two Japanese court rulings during the 1940s, the Diaoyutais belong to Taiwan, said Lee Chao-shing (李昭興), a professor of applied geosciences at National Taiwan Ocean University.