President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday reiterated that solid relations exist between Taiwan and Japan amid unresolved disputes over the sovereignty of the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) and pledged to deepen the bilateral cultural exchanges besides economic and trade cooperation.
“If politics is a fence, culture can be the wings that will [allow us to] fly over the fence. Although Taiwan and Japan severed diplomatic ties 40 years ago, we’ve developed closer relations with Japan over the years. I’ve defined Taiwan-Japan relations as a special partnership since taking office and stressed cultural exchanges between the two nations besides economic and trade cooperation,” he said at the opening ceremony of a painting exhibition at National Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall.
The exhibition, which showcased a collection of woodblock paintings by Judy Ongg (翁倩玉), a renowned Taiwanese artist based in Japan, attracted the attendance of politicians from both Japan and Taiwan.
Interchange Association, Japan, Chairman Mitsuo Ohashi also attended the event.
Ma said his administration and Japanese government have made great efforts to promote cultural exchanges between the two sides and as the two sides joined efforts to reduce the legal obstacles on overseas exhibitions, the National Palace Museum is scheduled to hold exhibitions in Japan in 2014, while major museums in Japan are scheduled to hold exhibitions in Taiwan.
Ohashi also defended relations between Taiwan and Japan speaking at the opening ceremony, but avoided discussing the dispute over the Diaoyutais.
When asked to comment on the issue, Ongg said that Japan and Taiwan have enjoyed a deep friendship over the past years, adding that she expected the territorial dispute to be resolved soon after positive reactions from both sides.
Separately yesterday, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the Japanese foreign minister’s call for calm in dealing with “pending issues” in relations between Taiwan and Japan demonstrated goodwill.
The ministry was referring to a statement by Koichiro Gemba, released by the Interchange Association, Japan, on Friday, that called on both sides to not allow “isolated problems” to affect bilateral relations and to make the effort to communicate and deal with problems rationally.
Though the statement did not mention the Diaoyutais explicitly, it was clearly addressing the mounting tensions between Taiwan and Japan over the islet chain, which both countries claim as their territory.
“This is an indication of Japan’s demonstration of goodwill,” ministry spokesman Steve Hsia (夏季昌) said.
In his statement, the Japanese foreign minister said it was in the interests of all parties involved to ensure peace and stability in the East China Sea.
Gemba said that although some parts of Taiwan’s East China Sea peace initiative and its “implementation guidelines” were unacceptable to Japan, Japan acknowledges the basic concept and spirit of the proposal.
The initiative, proposed by Ma in August to deal with sovereignty disputes over small islets in the East China Sea, calls for all parties involved to shelve territorial disputes and jointly explore and share resources in the region.
Japan has long refused to acknowledge that there is a territorial dispute, insisting it has sovereignty over the islets.
Tensions have mounted over the Diaoyutai Islands in the East China Sea since Japan bought three of the chain’s islets from their private owner on Sept. 11 in an apparent bid to further assert its sovereignty over the archipelago.
Taiwan has since reasserted its sovereignty over the island chain, which lies 120 nautical miles (220 km) northeastern of Taipei.