The way that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is pushing Taiwan’s claims to the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) could damage bilateral relations with the US, academics said on Tuesday in Washington.
While the US is doing all it can to calm the sovereignty dispute over the Diaoyutais, known as the Senkakus in Japan, academics at the Taiwan Roundtable at the Sigur Center for Asian Studies in Washington said Ma may have been overly active in making Taiwan’s case.
“Ma’s call for trilateral peace talks [with Japan and China] is more in line with what the US wants to see happening,” George Washington University’s Robert Sutter said.
Even so, there has been a “muted response” from the US and there is continuing debate over just how much Washington welcomes the idea, Sutter said.
Weighing the pros and cons of the situation, the US could be seeing Taiwan as a problem in this issue, he added.
“You could come to the conclusion that the US government would prefer that Taiwan not further complicate the situation,” he said.
He stressed that US President Barack Obama’s overwhelming priority was to end the “turmoil and contention” over the islands and bring the issue under control.
At a time when Washington is trying to iron out problems surrounding the islands, Taiwan taking a more assertive stance “is something that is probably not welcome,” Sutter said.
Ma’s actions of sending coastguard boats to protect fishing vessels approaching the islands and becoming involved in a water canon fight with the Japanese “do not fit well with what the US wants to do.”
Sutter said Taiwan could be seen by the US as being “disruptive.”
He added that it was easy for Taiwan to be seen as “unimportant and to be ignored” and this could be one reason Ma was being forceful over the islands’ sovereignty.
“Being part of the process is every bit as important as the outcome,” Towson University’s Steven Phillips said.
Taiwan does not have to win the Diaoyutais conflict, but it does not want to be seen as losing, he added.
Ma’s actions over the islands were “an attempt to raise up Taiwan’s international status” as much as they were an attempt to win sovereignty, Phillips said.
Phillips said that as the weakest of the three claimants in terms of the size of its economy and military, there was a danger that the issue could damage Taipei’s credibility.
“Taiwan might raise its international profile, but it could be harmful in the long run to its relations with the US and Japan,” Phillips said.