Diaoyutai Status Quo Shattered: Taipei Must Speak Up
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
November 2, 2012
Summary: The status quo in the Diaoyutai Islands has changed. Taipei's strategy is to maintain peace with Beijing, while remaining friendly with Washington and Tokyo. It is to maximize the interests of the public on Taiwan. This will be a top priority for the Ma administration during Ma's second term.
Full Text below:
The dispute between Mainland China and Japan over the sovereignty of the Diaoyutai Islands has reached an apparent impasse. Forces maintaining the status quo and forces effecting change are tugging at each other.
Initially Japan wanted to maintain the status quo. It exercised de facto control over the Diaoyutai Islands. Therefore it established three bottom lines. These include the maintenance of a 12 nautical mile limit, long term occupation of territory within the 12 nautical mile limit, and organized large-scale landings on the islands. Mainland China has long wanted to change this status quo, one in which Japan alone exercised control over the Diaoyutai Islands. To do this, Mainland China dispatched fishery boats, ocean surveillance ships, and naval fleets into the waters surrounding the Diaoyutai Islands. It constantly tried to break through Japan's defenses, to test Japan's resolve.
Japan's defenses do not consist of its own military forces. Instead it is based on the US-Japan alliance. When Japan loses support from the United States, its defenses are weakened. The pendulum will then swing toward Mainland China. With Mainland China constantly challenging the status quo, the situation has been reversed.
Recently Mainland China ocean surveillance ships sailed within 12 nautical miles of Diaoyutai Island waters. It began expelling Japanese Coast Guard vessels. Mainland China has changed the status quo. The next step is to establish its own de facto control over the Diaoyutai Islands, and maintain a new status quo. Of course the Mainland is also using the dispute over the sovereignty of the Diaoyutai Islands to break through the first line of defense established by the United States and Japan in the Western Pacific island chain.
Mainland China has changed the status quo in the Diaoyutai Islands. Will this lead to a further escalation of conflict between Mainland China and Japan? The future of relations between Mainland China and Japan will be determined by both catalysts and constraints. One catalyst is the United States' return to Asia as a strong backer for Japan. Another catalyst is Mainland China's determination to break through the first island chain in the Western Pacific. One constraint is the high degree of economic interdependence between Mainland China and Japan, and Mainland China's strategy of "engaged struggle." Consider the status quo. The U.S. government cancelled its plans for joint island landing exercises between the United States and Japan. The United States apparently did not want to become caught up in a dispute between Mainland China and Japan over the sovereignty of the Diaoyutai Islands. Mainland China has already changed the status quo regarding Diaoyutai. It has already achieved its military goal by breaking through the Western Pacific island chain.
Now consider the constraints. Mainland China is Japan's largest trading partner. Japan is Mainland China's third largest trading partner. Japan is Mainland China's largest source of investments and technology. Economic interdependence between Mainland China and Japan is both deep and wide. Anti-Japanese sentiment on Mainland China has cost Japanese companies heavily. The Japanese government has begun looking for alternative markets. Japanese companies have begun large-scale divestments and halted technology sharing. This is not conducive to the economic development of the Chinese mainland. Secondly, Mainland China and Japan may have engaged in economic warfare, trade warfare, and actual military warfare. But Mainland China continues to maintain high-level diplomatic contacts with Japan. Mainland China hopes the Japanese government will change its policy of nationalizing Diaoyutai. It does not want to expand the military conflict between Mainland China and Japan.
Clearly the constraints outweigh the catalysts. The conflict over the sovereignty of the Diaoyutai Islands will eventually cool down. The two sides need to find a way to step down at the appropriate time.
Beijing has changed the status quo in the Diaoyutai Islands. This has impacted Taipei in two wasys. Beijing has exercised its political influence in the Diaoyutai Islands. It will now intervene in fishing rights talks between Taipei and Tokyo. Beijing opposes any Taipei-Tokyo fishing rights negotiations that might bear on the sovereignty of the two parties. Secondly, Mainland Chinese military forces have entered waters surrounding the Diaoyutai Islands. The Diaoyutai Islands are less than 20 nautical miles from the main island of Taiwan. This will have a significant impact on the ROC's coastal defenses and air defenses.
Tensions between the Mainland and Japan are gradually cooling. Taipei must be wary of changes in the Japanese government's position regarding Taipei-Tokyo fishing rights talks. Tensions between Mainland China and Japan are gradually easing. Tokyo will not continue making concessions to Taipei during fishing rights negotiations. Therefore, we recommend that Taipei hold fishing rights talks with Tokyo before high level talks are held between Beijing and Tokyo. Taipei will then have more chips to play with during fishing rights negotiations with Tokyo. .
Secondly, we must beware of the ROC's marginalization on the international stage. Tensions between Mainland China and Japan are gradually easing. Beijing and Tokyo have excluded Taipei from the bargaining table. Therefore Taipei must take precautions. It must follow-up on the "East China Sea Peace Initiative ." It must make public the "East China Sea Code of Conduct" or "East China Sea Declaration on Conduct." It must bolster the ROC's position on the Diaoyutai issue.
The status quo in the Diaoyutai Islands has changed. Taipei's strategy is to maintain peace with Beijing, while remaining friendly with Washington and Tokyo. It is to maximize the interests of the public on Taiwan. This will be a top priority for the Ma administration during Ma's second term.