On Monday, the municipal council of Ishigaki City in Japan’s Okinawa Prefecture approved a proposal to give the uninhabited Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), which are called the Senkaku Islands in Japan, their own administrative designation of “Tonoshiro Senkaku” rather than just “Tonoshiro” — the name of a place on Ishigaki Island — with effect from Oct. 1.
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) took the lead in objecting to this name change soon after it was proposed on June 9. The Yilan County Council approved an ad hoc motion requesting the Yilan County Government to designate the Diaoyutais as “Toucheng Diaoyutai,” since Taiwan places the islands under the jurisdiction of the county’s Toucheng Township (頭城).
Yilan County Commissioner Lin Zi-miao (林姿妙), who is a KMT member, said she would invite President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) to go with her to put up an address plate on the Diaoyutais, while KMT Chairman Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) compared Tsai’s government with that of former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), which he said had done its utmost to uphold sovereignty over the Diaoyutais.
Ishigaki Mayor Yoshitaka Nakayama sent Taiwan a letter explaining the name change proposal. Nakayama said the proposal arose because Chinese government vessels have frequently entered waters around the Diaoyutais and even chased Japanese fishing boats away.
Nakayama said that this had happened dozens of times this year, and an old motion had been resubmitted to counter China’s activities.
Nakayama said he would not object to the Yilan County Council’s name-change proposal because it was a matter of domestic policy on both sides. He also made a friendly gesture by placing images of the Japanese and Republic of China national flags at the end of his message.
No one knows when or how a definite solution will be found for the Diaoyutais dispute. As long as it remains unresolved, tense situations and diplomatic tiffs can be expected to happen from time to time.
In Japan’s view, when the US, as the occupying power following World War II, restored sovereignty over the Ryukyu Islands to Japan in May 1972, it also transferred jurisdiction over the Diaoyutais to Japan.
However, for the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), eight years of resistance against Japanese aggression in the Second Sino-Japanese War was not enough. They want to keep on fighting, no matter what it takes.
In this situation, the Diao-yutais have served as a cheap consumer good for Chinese nationalism. The KMT and the CCP get up in arms over the islands from time to time, but it is always for domestic consumption and soon fizzles out.
“Diaoyutais” seems to be a secret password for the KMT and the CCP, whose displays of bravado are put on for ulterior motives.
The so-called “Baodiao Movement,” promoting Taiwan’s claims to the Diaoyutais, aims not only to ensnare Taiwan in China’s anti-Japanese sentiment, but also to reinforce the idea that Taiwan belongs to China.
Taiwanese fishers would like to fish around the Diaoyutais, but they have their view of the issue and politicians have theirs. Both agree on some things, but disagree on others. This is a contradiction that those in government must have the wisdom to unravel.
Beijing has not made a huge fuss over Ishigaki’s adoption of the term “Tonoshiro Senkaku,” but the KMT cannot resist making a drama out of it.
This might have to do with the resounding recall vote that forced former Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) to step down, with little hope of any KMT candidate getting elected to replace him, and with the KMT’s dim prospects for the 2022 local government elections.
From the KMT’s point of view, creating a political issue and replaying an old tune might have the dual benefits of boosting the party’s flagging morale and putting Tsai’s government in a tricky situation.
However, the public is not in the mood to reawaken the “Baodiao Movement” over the Japanese renaming of the Diaoyutais.
Having seen Nakayama’s explanation, most Taiwanese can go along with what he said about countering China.
If the KMT does not quickly end its latest “Baodiao” performance, any attempt to reinforce Taiwanese sovereignty over the Diaoyutais by leading a flotilla to waters near the islands could end up in an embarrassing anticlimax.
Taiwan and Japan form a community of democracies in the Asia-Pacific region. They should stand on the same side regarding the Diaoyutais question by setting disputes aside, developing resources together and fostering strategic cooperation. They should work together to counter China with regard to the Diaoyutais.
Taiwan’s strategic aim is to put China in a situation where it cannot hope to get its hands on either the Diaoyutais or Taiwan proper. The Diaoyutais are a territory that can be dealt with through dialogue between Taiwan and Japan.
The pan-green camp knows this very well and so does the pan-blue camp. The pan-blues are always thinking of ways to make the Diaoyutais a flash point for Taiwan-Japan relations, even though they never protest against China’s ambitions regarding the Diaoyutais.
If they really meant to protect the Diaoyutais for Taiwan’s sake, they should protest against China just as strongly as they do against Japan. In reality, they stand with China to counter Japan, and one cannot help feeling suspicious about their motives.
Despite being ravaged by COVID-19, China has sent coast guard vessels toward the Diaoyutais 65 times since April, and it has encroached on the islands’ territorial waters a dozen times this year.
Why do those who now claim to “defend the Diaoyutais” over the name-change decision not protest against China’s incursions?
Do the maneuvers by armed ships not transgress the “Baodiao” red line more clearly than a mere change of address? When a movement supposedly dedicated to protecting the Diaoyutais behaves like that, one cannot help but wonder on whose behalf it is “protecting” the islands — China’s or Taiwan’s.
On the Diaoyutais issue, there are people in Taiwan who do exactly what China wants. They connect the ideas of “protecting the Diaoyutais and resisting Japan” with that of “Taiwan belonging to China.”
Nakayama put Taiwan’s flag alongside that of Japan in his letter. This gesture sent a simple message, namely that the common interests of Taiwan and Japan are more important than their dispute over the Diaoyutais. Taiwanese should think about this calmly before taking action.
Another even more dangerous blind spot is that the Chinese military has threatened Taiwan for so many years that such threats have gradually come to be seen as normal. Moreover, they have redoubled since COVID-19 broke out in Wuhan, China.
China’s maneuvers have been met measure-for-measure by US military counteractions. Groups of Chinese warplanes have buzzed over waters southwest of Taiwan more than five times this month, heightening tension over the Taiwan Strait.
The COVID-19 pandemic has not abated in the US, which is to hold a presidential election in November.
Taiwan must be on its guard in case Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) takes the chance to make risky moves.
However, it seems that some people can only see the Diaoyutais change of address, not the unprecedented level of threats to Taiwan’s territorial seas and airspace.
Why do they not see the wood for the trees? Do they just have poor eyesight? Or does it have more to do with their ideology and national identity?
China’s border clashes with India and North Korea’s explosive demolition of its joint liaison office with South Korea last week are two major disturbances not far from Taiwan that could have knock-on effects.
At such a time, defenses should obviously focus on China, which is acting ever more impatiently toward Taiwan, and definitely not on Japan, which strongly supports Taiwan’s desire to attend the World Health Assembly and is making equally strong efforts to counter China.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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