There is a wonderful little Japanese restaurant near the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in downtown Taipei, where the sensuously soft and ever-so-fresh nigirizushi makes one’s toes curl up. Every morning, the chef, Abura-san, goes to the fish market in Suao (蘇澳), Yilan County, to buy the choicest catches.
Little known to the outside world, the township became close to a household name this week after dozens of fishing boats sailed out from there to the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) to protest the recent purchase of three of the islets by the Japanese government.
There’s a reason why Abura-san travels the distance every day. In his opinion, it’s the best fish one can find and the fishermen there know where to go to catch it. This oft-ignored connection between our palates and the hard work of fishermen who every day toil the sea to bring us its riches should make us pause at a time when governments engage in sloganeering and protesters call for war over the disputed islands.
As former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), a rare voice of reason in the spiraling dispute, said earlier this month, what truly matters is the livelihood of the thousands of Taiwanese fishermen who over the years have laid their nets in waters around the islets, not who owns them. President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) can say whatever he wants about sovereignty, for the majority of sailors who set off for the islands on Monday, practical issues — rights of access to fishing grounds — is what is at stake.
Some could argue that one way of resolving the problem would be for Taiwanese fishermen to abandon the disputed area and fish elsewhere. Unfortunately, things are not that simple. Why fishermen prize a specific area stems from years of practice and the careful study of fish migration patterns, seasonal currents and hydrography. In other words, some areas are better than others, and the waters around the Diaoyutais meet that requirement. One therefore cannot simply order fishermen, who have families to feed and children to send to school, to abandon all that.
Taiwanese fishermen oppose the nationalization of the islets not for political reasons or nationalism, but because they fear, rightly or wrongly, that state ownership would make it easier for Japan to prevent them from fishing in the area. Even before nationalization — made in part to pre-empt plans by hardline Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara to erect structures on the then private-owned islets — Taiwanese fishermen often complained of harassment by Japanese ships.
Discussing the crisis yesterday, Ma repeated the view that Taiwan seeks to resolve the matter peacefully and to co-develop resources. As Lee has pointed out, over the years Taiwan and Japan have engaged in 16 rounds of fisheries talks, which have yielded little result. In a statement on Sept. 13, the Interchange Association, Japan, issued a fig leaf when it said it hoped additional talks between the two countries could soon resume to negotiate fishing rights in marine areas, including waters around the Diaoyutais.
A true test of the Ma administration’s commitment to a peaceful resolution to the conflict, and of its genuine desire to protect the livelihood of thousands of Taiwanese fishermen, will be the quick resumption of fisheries talks with Japan. As Tokyo has signaled its intention to resume them, the ball is now in Taiwan’s court. Hijacking the cause of hardworking fishermen by turning it into a matter of politics, or scrambling fighter aircraft carrying bombs inscribed with the characters “The Diaoyutai Islands belong to us” (釣魚台是我們的) will not help resolve the issue.
The embattled Ma urgently needs to score a success right now. The chance to ensure the welfare of fishermen by resolving differences with Tokyo through rational diplomacy is an opportunity served on a plate.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has over the past few months continued to escalate its hegemonic rhetoric and increase its incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. The US, in turn, has finally realized how its “strategic ambiguity” is increasingly wearing thin. Similarly, any hopes the US had that the PRC would be a responsible stakeholder and economic player have diminished, if not been abandoned. Taiwan, of course, remains as the same de facto independent, democratic nation that the PRC covets. As a result, the US needs to reconsider not only the amount, but also the type of arms
Taking advantage of my Taipei Times editors’ forbearance, I thought I would go with a change of pace by offering a few observations on an interesting nature topic, the many varieties of snakes in Taiwan. I will be drawing on my experiences living in Taiwan five times, from my teenage years in Kaohsiung back in the early sixties, to my last assignment as American Institute in Taiwan Director in 2006-9. Taiwan, with its semitropical climate, is a perfect setting for serpents. Indeed, one might say serpents are an integral part of the island’s ecosystem. Taiwan is warm, humid, with lots of
China constantly seeks out ways to complain about perceived slights and provocations as pretexts for its own aggressive behavior. It is both victimization paranoia and a form of information warfare that keeps the West on the defensive. True to form, China objected even to the innocuous reference to Taiwan at April 16’s summit meeting between US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Neither leader’s prepared remarks even mentioned Taiwan, out of deference to the Japanese side. Biden’s opening statement was modest: “Prime Minister Suga and I affirmed our ironclad support for US-Japanese alliance and for our shared security.
There is no ambiguity when it comes to war. Ambiguity begs for certainty and a lack thereof has historically led to war. History is full of examples: Europe’s and the US’ ambiguity as to how they would respond to Hitler’s growing territorial expansion in Europe was certainly a contributing factor to World War II. In the same vein, US ambiguity toward Japan’s expansionist militarism in the 1930s clearly led to the Pearl Harbor attacks that started the war in Asia in 1941. Ambiguity in a world with leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) will inevitably