Diaoyutais: Ma rocking the boat?
By Paul Lin 林保華

According to reports in the Taiwanese media, a group leaving Taiwan in the early hours of Jan. 24 for the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan, where they intended to declare Taiwan’s sovereignty over the islands, were escorted by Coast Guard Administration’s (CGA) ships for the whole journey.

According to the CGA report, “while en route, they [coast guard ships] encountered interference from official Japanese ships, which ended with the two sides firing water cannons at each other. In addition, our coast guard vessels encountered official Chinese ships in the waters around the Diaoyutais for the first time. To avoid concerns that the two sides cooperate in the protection of the Diaoyutais, they were forcefully expelled.”

The Chinese ocean surveillance ships did not leave the area, so while Taiwan’s coast guard vessels and the Japanese ships where pounding each other with water cannons, they sat behind the Taiwanese ships as support.

The US did not approve of Taiwan’s interference, which resulted in an explanation by Representative to the US King Pu-tsung (金溥聰).

King said that Taiwan has always maintained a close relationship with the US and that the nation is a free and democratic country, which means that the government cannot do anything to prevent fishing vessels venturing into the area as long as the fishermen had filed applications to do so in accordance with the law.

Liang Yunxiang (梁雲祥), a professor in the School of International Studies at Peking University, finds it very interesting that Chinese ocean surveillance ships and official Taiwanese vessels would appear in the vicinity of the Diaoyutais at the same time. It could be a coincidence, but it could also be that China sent the ships because they knew about the Taiwanese action in advance.

Using King’s explanation, the fishermen could not be stopped because the area is their normal fishing ground: That is not true.

On the Taiwanese fishing boat were Hsieh Mang-lin (謝夢麟), chairman of the Chinese Association for Protecting the Diaoyutais, the association’s executive director Huang Hsi-lin (黃錫麟) and three other members of the association, the Taiwanese captain, an Indonesian crew member and a reporter from Phoenix Satellite Television.

There were more politicians on the boat than fishermen, making it obvious that they were not going to the Diaoyutais to fish.

There is also the question of how the Chinese ocean surveillance ships happened to be there at the same time. Had someone given Beijing advance notice of the trip?

The Chinese Association for Protecting the Diaoyutais should know better than anyone else, and Phoenix TV is part of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s intelligence organization.

Recently, cars with stickers of the People’s Republic of China national flag and slogans for the protection of the Diaoyutais, as well as the Chinese national anthem blaring from speakers, have been driving through Taiwanese streets. It makes one think of the pro-Japanese fifth columnists during World War II. However, Taiwan’s national security organization sees nothing.

The timing for this Chinese and Taiwanese cooperation on the protection of the Diaoyutais was well chosen.

On Jan. 23, Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of Japan’s New Komeito Party, arrived in Beijing, bringing with him a letter from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平). China first said Xi would refuse to receive the Japanese envoy, in a display of displeasure with Japan.

The main story on Phoenix TV’s midday news on Jan. 24, after its reporter left with the Diaoyutais activists early that morning, said that Xi would meet with Yamaguchi the next day. This was followed by a detailed “exclusive” report on the Taiwanese movement to protect the Diaoyutais.

Only two minutes were spent on Yamaguchi’s activities, yet the report on the Taiwanese Diaoyutais activists was given seven minutes.

According to Japanese media, Xi gave a very positive evaluation of Abe in his meeting with Yamaguchi.

The result of the whole episode was that the tension between Japan and China seemed to relax, while Taiwan’s relations with both Japan and the US became increasingly tense. One could argue that sowing division between Taiwan on the one hand, and the US and Japan on the other, is precisely what China is aiming for strategically.

One can only wonder if President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and the nation’s national security agencies are completely unaware that they are being used, or that they have already entered into a strategic partnership with China.

Paul Lin is a political commentator.

Translated by Perry Svensson



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