ROC stands firm on Diaoyutais, South China Sea
On May 2, the governor of Tokyo Shintaro Ishihara announced that Japanese citizens had responded admirably to his call for assistance in purchasing three islands in the Diaoyutai Archipelago. Over a five-day period, 76 million yen (US$949,000) was donated, buoying hopes in some quarters that the islands will soon be developed and the country’s sovereignty over the region established.
For the ROC government, this disappointing development places unnecessary strain on Taipei-Tokyo ties, which have shown remarkable improvement since President Ma Ying-jeou took office in May 2008. The fact is that the Diaoyutais are an inalienable part of ROC territory and the nation’s sovereignty over the archipelago, surrounding waters and seabed is indisputable.
Although Ishihara’s misguided plan to buy the islands threatens to needlessly spark a dispute in the region, it does have the useful effect of underscoring the value of recent steps taken by the ROC Ministry of National Defense to bolster security in and around the Diaoyutai and South China Sea Island groups.
On the same day that Ishihara turned the spotlight on his lost cause, the MND outlined recent measures taken to safeguard sovereignty in outlying ROC territories. These were contained in a joint Coast Guard Administration and Ministry of Foreign Affairs report presented to the Legislature’s Foreign and National Defense Committee.
In the document, the MND demonstrated that it has not been sitting idly by as neighboring economies test the boundaries of ROC largesse. It has increased the frequency and range of air and coastal patrols, conducted regular visits by supply aircraft and warships, and held military drills on islands with permanent bases such as Taiping Island in the Nansha (Spratly) Islands.
MND Minister Kao Hua-chu, who is quoted extensively in the report, said the ministry was forced to act in light of long-standing economic, fishing and sovereignty disputes in the regions. He was referring to Ishihara’s plan, the March incursions of armed Vietnamese patrol boats in restricted waters near Taiping, and a high-profile standoff last month between the Philippines and mainland China over the Scarborough Shoal.
The effectiveness of MND security initiatives was on show during the April 30 visit by a group of ROC legislators and senior military officials to Taiping, situated 1,600 kilometers southeast of Kaohsiung City.
Comprising ruling Kuomintang lawmakers Chan Kai-chin, Chen Cheng-hsiang and Lin Yu-fang, as well as Deputy MND Minister Andrew N.D. Yang and air force Deputy Commander Lin Yu-pao, the party met with Coast Guard Administration personnel, inspected defense installations and toured nearby Zhongzhou Reef.
Upon returning to the Legislature in Taipei City, the lawmakers gave a news conference at which they praised efforts to protect the island and ROC sovereignty in the region.
In addition to the ROC, which exercises full sovereignty over the Dongsha (Pratas), Nansha, Xisha (Paracel) and Zhongsha (Macclesfield) islands, the South China Sea entertains competing claims by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and mainland China.
Given other countries are making increasingly aggressive moves in the region, Lin wants to see—and with good reason—a beefed-up ROC presence. More defense installations, increased personnel numbers and the permanent stationing of ROC navy vessels are some of the suggestions being bandied about by lawmakers and MND officials.
But these changes might not go down so well on the domestic front, nor with neighboring economies. The group’s visit drew flak from some in Taiwan, with Kao forced to defend the trip against charges that it strained relations with neighboring economies.
The minister described the visit as normal and said senior officials and lawmakers often tour Taiping Island. An MND official also confirmed that Philippine authorities were notified of the party’s flight path as per international air traffic control regulations.
Despite challenges to ROC sovereignty in the Diaoyutais and South China Sea, and increasing calls to up security in these regions, the government’s fundamental approach remains a conciliatory one in all disputes. Furthermore, it is committed to seeking diplomatic mediation and assistance from international organizations to defend the country’s sovereignty.
This position is regularly reaffirmed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in its statements urging economies with competing interests to exercise self-restraint and avoid unilateral measures that might cause instability—a stance in keeping with the Ma administration goal of transforming Taiwan’s international image from one of a troublemaker into a peacemaker.
All parties should keep in mind that the government has repeatedly stated its willingness to collaborate in exploring the resources of these areas based on the principles of safeguarding sovereignty, shelving disputes and maintaining peace and reciprocity. Hopefully, this farsighted policy will persuade more extreme players such as Ishihara to respect the ROC’s right to play a central role in safeguarding these regions for future generations.
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