Activists from both sides of the Taiwan Strait who advocate the defense of the disputed Diaoyutai islands (釣魚台) yesterday scaled down their plan to sail to the islets to claim sovereignty after seven people from Hong Kong and Macau backed off.
The seven dropped out after the National Immigration Agency told them joining the protest was inconsistent with the purpose for which their entry permits were issued and it would result in the revocation of their permits and a “denial of entry to Taiwan in future.”
Taipei County Councilor King Chieh-shou (金介壽), who together with the activists called on the governments on both sides of the strait to take a “stronger stance” against Japan on Saturday, also dropped out, citing difficulty renting boats because of government intervention.
“It was really difficult to rent a boat. Not only was it expensive — at a cost of NT$300,000 to NT$500,000 — the government also threatened the boat owners and said it would revoke their license if they rented us their boats,” King said.
Despite the withdrawals, two Taiwanese activists stuck with the plan and set sail yesterday.
Chung Hwa Baodiao Alliance executive director Huang Hsi-lin (黃錫麟) and alliance member Yin Pi-hsiung (殷必雄) set sail on a 10-tonne fishing boat with a captain and two crewmembers from Yeliou Harbor (野柳), Taipei County, at 3:55pm.
A Coast Guard Administration (CGA) patrol ship followed in their wake.
Coast Guard official Shih Yi-che (施義哲) said the patrol would escort the fishing boat throughout the trip to “ensure their safety.”
The Japan Interchange Foundation, Tokyo’s semiofficial mission in Taipei, lodged a protest with the Ministry of Forrign Affairs after the vessel was allowed to leave port, calling the move ‘’extremely regrettable,” adding that it could have an adverse effect on relations between Taiwan and Japan.
The fishing boat is expected to approach the Diaoyutais early this morning.
“We want to show our support for the [Chinese] mainland ship seized by Japan and to fight for the rights of Taiwanese fishermen in the area,” Huang said.
The Diaoyutais, which are surrounded by rich fishing grounds and potential natural gas deposits, are located 193km east of Taiwan. They are administered by Japan, but Taiwan and China also claim sovereignty over them.
Led by Chen Miau Tak (陳妙德), chairman of the Hong Kong Diaoyutai Islets Protection Task Force, the group of seven from Hong Kong and Macau arrived in Taiwan on Friday following the arrest of a captain of a Chinese fishing boat by the Japanese coast guard after a collision with a patrol boat in the disputed area.
The incident coincided with Japan’s seizure of two Taiwanese boats for allegedly fishing illegally in the disputed area. Both were later released after paying a fine.
Later yesterday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a press statement reaffirming the government’s position on the Diaoyutais, saying they are part of the country’s “inherent territory” and fall within its “sovereign jurisdiction.”
Saying the protest was “spontaneously initiated by civil associations,” the ministry said it had asked the Japanese government not to interfere with the trip and to keep everything in perspective to uphold the mutual interests and long-term friendship of the two countries.