United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
August 1, 2016
Executive Summary: The “ruling” over the South China Sea has already led to major changes in East Asian international relations. It has impacted cross-Strait relations. It has changed Taiwan Japan relations. The DPP regime must discard its one-sided policy towards Japan. It must rethink its strategy. It must reject flowery rhetoric for substantive diplomacy. The change in Taiwan Japan Maritime Cooperation Dialogue confirms this necessity.
Full Text Below:
The DPP regime has long seen the "Taiwan Japan Maritime Affairs Cooperation Dialogue" mechanism as a breakthrough in Taipei Tokyo relations. But a few days ago, the dialogue abruptly ended, causing an uproar. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the issues were too many and too varied to deal with, and that out of "caution", it decided to postpone the event.
Taiwan Japan Maritime Affairs Cooperation Dialogue includes cooperation on fisheries, environmental protection, emergency rescue, and scientific research. The Department of Fisheries, the Ministry of Science, and the Ministry of the Interior, have negotiated these issues with the Government of Japan in the past. But they have now returned to square one, and are starting from scratch. The issues may be many and varied. But Taiwan and Japan should have reached a tacit agreement by now. It is not as if they lacked the time.
Take the issues one by one. Taiwan Japan Maritime Affairs Cooperation Dialogue includes fishing grounds, research vessel classification and identification, maritime conservation legislation, and emergency rescue notification mechanisms. These are bureaucratic level technical issues, not politically sensitive issues. The issues may be varied, but the difficulties are not that great.
The agenda was agreed upon long ago. So why have the two governments put the talks on hold? For two reasons. Reason One. The recent “ruling” on the South China Sea demoted Taiping Island to the status of a "reef", provoking a public outcry on Taiwan. This forced the Tsai regime to get tough and protest this “ruling” by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague.
The Japanese government on the other hand, declared that the “ruling” on the South China Sea constituted binding arbitration. It demanded that the parties comply. The gap between our perception and Japan's is huge. That is the reason for the delay. Not because the issues are varied and many, but because the atmosphere has been poisoned.
Reason Two. The Taiwan Japan Maritime Affairs Cooperation Dialogue mechanism was originally intended to resolve differences over Taiwan fishermen fishing in waters near Cong Zhi Niao Reef. Before that, the two sides had already agreed to address only fishing disputes, and shelve any disputes over Cong Zhi Niao Reef sovereignty. They had also reverted to the 2002 Chen era agreement to "first report, then withdraw". The problem is that once Taiping Island was demoted to the status of a reef, the understanding evaporated overnight. Now, if the two sides were to address fishing rights for Taiwan fishermen in the waters near Cong Zhi Niao Reef, that would imply its recognition as an "island". That would assuredly provoke a backlash on Taiwan. Therefore the talks have been postponed indefinitely, not because of the two sides lacked time for preparation, but because the circumstances have changed.
The indefinite postponement of Taiwan Japan dialogue has revealed two blind spots in DPP policy towards Japan. Blind Spot One is the Tsai regime's wishful thinking vis a vis the Japanese government. The moment the DPP came to power, it boasted that it was the most pro-Japanese government ever on Taiwan. During the Tung Sheng Chi 16 incident the Ma Ying-jeou government formally declared that Cong Zhi Niao Reef was merely a reef. But as soon as the DPP came to power, it attempted to pander to Japan. The DPP regime claimed that in order to comply with international law, it was now referring to the reef as “Cong Zhi Niao”. It was no longer specifying whether it was a reef or an island, in order to avoid offending the Japanese.
The recent “ruling” on the South China Sea demoted Taiping Island to the status of a “reef”. The Japanese government added insult to injury. It demanded that the ROC abide by the International Court of Justice ruling. It unilaterally call a halt to the Taiwan Japan Maritime Issues Cooperation Dialogue. When Taiwan Japan relations and Japan's national interests collided, the Japanese government chose its own national interests. The DPP, on the other hand, in order to persuade Japan to assist it in opposing the Mainland, groveled before the Japanese. They not only sacrificed our national interests. They even undermined relations with Japan.
Blind Spot Two is ignoring the impact of regional security on Taiwan Japan relations. As soon as the DPP came to power, cross-Strait relations chilled. The DPP attempted to join the US and Japan in “containing” Mainland China. Under this policy, the DPP must adopt an ambiguous policy on the South China Sea in order to comply with US and Japanese strategy, and avoid the impression that Taipei and Beijing are on the same side. But the “ruling” on the South China Sea has frustrated this attempt. It has put Taiwan and the Mainland on the same side. It has undermined the DPP's original plan for relations with Japan. It has also disrupted the Tsai regime's plan to confine talks with Japan to fishing rights. Its desire to avoid talking about Cong Zhi Niao Reef sovereignty has turned out to be wishful thinking. Public outrage is growing. The status of Cong Zhi Niao Reef has become an unavoidable obstacle to Taiwan Japan Maritime Affairs Dialogue, and become a major concern in DPP Japan relations.
The “ruling” over the South China Sea has already led to major changes in East Asian international relations. It has impacted cross-Strait relations. It has changed Taiwan Japan relations. The DPP regime must discard its one-sided policy towards Japan. It must rethink its strategy. It must reject flowery rhetoric for substantive diplomacy. The change in Taiwan Japan Maritime Cooperation Dialogue confirms this necessity.