Diaoyutai: Uphold Territorial Sovereignty and National Dignity
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
July 11, 2012
Summary: Disputes have erupted yet again over the sovereignty of the Diaoyutai Islands. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has decided to "nationalize" the Diaoyutai Islands. This has provoked protests from both Mainland China and Taiwan. Actually the Diaoyutai Defense Movement has been fraught with domestic political significance from the beginning. We must uphold our territorial sovereignty and maintain our national dignity. We must not turn Diaoyutai into a political circus. This will require political wisdom and finesse.
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Disputes have erupted yet again over the sovereignty of the Diaoyutai Islands. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has decided to "nationalize" the Diaoyutai Islands. This has provoked protests from both the Mainland and Taiwan. Actually the Diaoyutai Defense Movement has been fraught with domestic political significance from the beginning. We must uphold our territorial sovereignty and maintain our national dignity. We must not turn Diaoyutai into a political circus. This will require political wisdom and finesse.
For years Mainland China, Japan, and Taiwan have all asserted sovereignty over the Diaoyutai Islands. Most confrontations have been between vessels at sea. In 2008 a Japanese patrol ship sank the Taiwan vessel "Union." The ROC Coast Guard escorted Diaoyutai Defense Movement activists to the islands and enabled them to make a landing. In 2010 Japan and Mainland China ships collided. Right-wing Japanese groups have repeatedly landed on the islands and proclaimed sovereignty. Now however, the Japanese government has decided to "buy" the three Diaoyutai Islands from its "owner." This new move was promoted by Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara.
The ruling Democratic Party's popularity has steadily declined. When those in power show signs of weakness, challengers soon appear. A new generation of political stars such as Osaka Governor Toru Hashimoto is leading a new wave of reformers. Conservative right wingers are also uniting to topple the Democratic Party.
Shintaro Ishihara used the Diaoyutai Islands issue to check Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. Ishihara announced that Tokyo intends to raise money to buy the three islands. Currently the central government is "leasing" the three islands from its "owner." So far Ishihara has received NT $30 million in donations. Ishihara is using the issue to make the Noda government appear weak, and to unite right-wing masses under his leadership. He clearly has Prime Ministerial ambitions.
Noda's popularity has been plummeting. The defection of the Ozawa faction crippled the ruling coalition in the Diet. According to the latest NHK polls, the Noda cabinet's approval rating is now at 27%. Its disapproval rating is now at a 56%. This is a record high for Noda. When political parties or politicians weaken, their confidence is low. At times like these they may be hijacked by extremists. The extremists may be a minority. But if they are vocal and know how to demagogue the issues, they can influence policy.
To avoid Diaoyutai becoming the focus of political attacks during the next Lower House election, the Noda government has decided to up the ante. To bolster its credentials as a defender of national sovereignty, Noda is scrambling to negotiate with the "owner." Panic buying has erupted. This is essentially a domestic Japanese political struggle. Diaoyutai is merely a tool.
That said, the governments on the two sides of the Strait cannot sit and do nothing. Noda is preparing to "purchase" Diaoyutai Island. President Ma Ying-jeou says that relations between Taipei and Tokyo are the best they have ever been. Nevertheless on issues of national interest and national sovereignty, Ma says "We will not yield even an inch." The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China also issued a statement. It solemnly reiterated its territorial claims. Mainland Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said China will not allow its sacred territory to be bought and sold.
Actually, shortly after Ishihara announced his intention to "buy" the Diaoyutai Islands, fishing boats from the Mainland entered Diaoyutai Island waters for the first time. Moves to assert sovereignty over the Diaoyutai Islands escalated. Earlier this month Diaoyutai Defense Movement activists traveled to the Diaoyutai Islands on the Taiwan ship "Quanjiafu" to proclaim sovereignty. ROC Coast Guard ships accompanied them. But the Diaoyutai Defense Movement activists failed to bring along a Republic of China flag. They used a Peoples Republic of China flag to assert sovereignty. The Diaoyutai Defense Movement was already riddled with political sensitivities. This development made it even more controversial. Japan worried that the two sides were ganging up on Japan. Some on Taiwan wondered whether ROC Coast Guard ships were proclaiming sovereignty over Diaoyutai on behalf of the Chinese Mainland. The two sides of the Strait already have sovereignty disputes. Have Diaoyutai Defense Movement activists from Taiwan put the Republic of China government in a bind?
In the face of territorial disputes, the international community invariably advocates peaceful negotiated settlements. But this is pro forma lip service. In reality territorial disputes are seldom settled through negotiations. Nobody wants to do something for which there are no benefits. Nations already exercising sovereignty have no need to talk. Nations that claim sovereignty must be able to recover their territory by force. Otherwise all they can do is shout their claims. All they can do is keep the status of the disputed territory controversial, and to ensure that they are heard. Such proclamations, protests, and assertions can continue for decades. But they change nothing.
If domestic affairs are not put in order, they lead to diplomatic troubles. This is common in international politics. This was true for Argentina, which provoked the Falklands War. This is true for Noda. The national interest is many-faceted. Some interests are urgent and require immediately attention. Others involve fighting a protracted war. If one is led around by the nose by the demands of domestic politics, the nation will be difficult to govern. The ROC faces a sovereignty dispute over Diaoyutai. It must also promote exchanges and cooperation beween Taipei and Tokyo. It must weigh the two and do what it can to uphold the national interest.