Taiwan should play a more “positive and constructive” role in the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) dispute, a former US State Department official said on Friday.
“At a minimum Taiwan should not be a problem or an obstacle to constructive resolution,” Project 2049 president Randy Schriver said.
Schriver, a former US deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian Affairs, said that Taiwan’s good communications with all of the participants could be a “huge asset.” He added that President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) East China Sea peace plan needed to be taken more seriously.
“Taiwan is the only one that has a plan on the table and we should look at it,” he said in a speech at a Heritage Foundation conference on “Shoring Up the US-Taiwan Partnership.”
“We have a problem in the Senkakus [Japan’s name for the islands] area and if the assessment of Washington is that Taiwan has contributed unfavorably to that problem, it will hurt US-Taiwan relations,” he said.
Schriver said Taiwan should go to “great lengths” to avoid the appearance of any collusion with China on the issue. He said that while the US did not have a position on the sovereignty of the islands, Washington was not neutral.
“Our treaty obligations and our long-term strategic interests do not make us desirous of seeing the islands falling under the sovereignty of the PRC [People’s Republic of China],” he said.
Speaking with great emphasis, Schriver said: “Taiwan should avoid the appearance of collusion because I believe that would be viewed unfavorably.”
“Taiwan should be working positively with Tokyo and trying to improve that relationship [so as] not [to] cause any damage or any rifts,” he said. “Taiwan is stuck between its most important economic partner, China, and its most important security partner, the US-Japan alliance.”
He said the US could not fulfill its defense obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) without the US-Japan alliance.
“Japan is arguably Taiwan’s second-most important security partner,” he said. “If Taiwan undertakes activities that cause problems with Tokyo, that will cause problems with the United States and that should be avoided.”
He said Taiwan needed to avoid any activities that created “further uncertainty and chaos in an operating environment that is already uncertain and chaotic.”
Chinese and Japanese military and coast guard “assets” were now operating in close proximity to one another with no rules of the road, no crisis communication and no crisis management capability, he said.
“If Taiwan enters into that fray, it can only be a downside,” he said.
“We do not need a war and as much as you can say we would never fight over a pile of rocks, we have fought over stranger things in the past,” Schriver said.
“The trend lines right now are very dangerous. When the PRC decided to add air activity to this mix, they shortened the time line of decisionmaking to seconds. That’s hard for civilian leadership to maintain positive command and control,” he said.
Schriver said again that the US would “look very unfavorably” on any activity that added to the existing “chaotic operating environment.”
Taiwan should be a “constructive participant,” should avoid risks and do more to help solve the situation.