Friends and Neighbors

Numerous small islands litter The East China Sea. Many are quite uninhabited, barren islets. A significant number are no more than rocky outcrops. Some are merely submerged chunks of coral that are visible only at high tide.
The East China Sea is, as its name suggests, located east of Mainland China; to the north is Japan, and to the south lies Taiwan. It is a very busy shipping area. Under the seabed, there would seem to be rich mineral deposits. The waters are full of fish.
The main countries in the region—China, Japan and Taiwan—have intense, competing views on sovereignty; each claimant calls the islands by different names.
The Pinnacle Islands, as the British called them, also known as the Diaoyutais, comprise eight small islets just north of Taiwan. Their name, Diaoyutais, means “fishing platform” in Chinese. They lie at the heart of an increasingly messy dispute between China, Japan and Taiwan.
Westerners are sometimes woefully unaware of their own past and blissfully ignorant of the history of the world outside their own region. For the peoples of the East China Sea, the disputes over territory are not mere squabbles about fishing rights or access to minerals beneath the ocean floor, they are more than that; they are the result of hard fought battles, bitter disputes, invasions, defeats and victories, peace treaties, accords and alliances.
President Ma of Taiwan is in many ways a pragmatist, a realist; he has to be. He has brought an unprecedented stability to relations between Taiwan and Mainland China through his policies. He saw the issues; he accepted that China and Taiwan did not, could not, see eye to eye on everything, but refused to be mired down in the past. He moved on. China and Taiwan agreed to disagree with mutual respect and understanding, and the world became a better, safer place. Relations between the two Chinas have improved beyond all expectations. Trade flourishes, investment flows in both directions across the Straights of Taiwan and people travel freely between the two nations.
The conflicting claims of sovereignty over the eight islands must not be allowed to rock the boat that sails tranquilly in the East China Sea. Just recently, President Ma put forward a plan to defuse the situation and ensure peace and stability in the region.
Interestingly, Mainland China should have no fundamental reason to object to Ma’s initiative as Beijing has expressed a willingness for more than 10 years to negotiate partnerships with the claimants in disputed parts of the South China Sea to jointly explore resources near the Spratly Islands, while not compromising on its claim of sovereignty over the area.
Mainland China, however, is in the midst of a change in its power structure. It is highly unlikely that any of China’s new leaders will take the risk of publicly challenging long-held positions by endorsing Ma’s initiative. Their most likely  response will be to quietly acquiesce and keep out of the conflict for now. The rapprochement with Taiwan is too important; it must not be jeopardized.
On other fronts, President Ma’s East China Sea peace initiative to help resolve the dispute over the Diaoyutai (Senkaku or Diaoyu) islands has received positive responses from Japan and the United States. Japan’s foreign minister reiterated Japan’s sovereignty over the islands but said his country was open to promoting cooperation in the East China Sea region and hoped that the friendly relations between Tokyo and Taipei would not be hindered by the dispute over the islands.
In essence, the peace initiative proposed by President Ma in early August called on all parties to refrain from hostile action, put aside differences, not abandon dialogue, observe international law and resolve the dispute through peaceful means.
President Ma, in presenting his proposals, referred to the lessons of history. He spoke of the disputes and solutions  reached by Europeans when oil reserves were discovered in the North Sea between Britain and Northern Europe. Similarly, all sides should seek consensus on a code of conduct for the East China Sea and establish a mechanism for cooperation on exploring and developing resources in the region. The countries of the region need to achieve mutual trust and cooperation in the disputed region.
Taiwan, Japan and China all claim the Tiaoyutais, which are known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan and the Diaoyutais in China. Tension was heightened this week when on Wednesday Japan detained 14 Chinese activists who clambered onto a bleak little islet that was claimed and controlled by Tokyo.
The activists, who had set sail from Hong Kong, dodged Japanese coast guard vessels and planted Chinese and Taiwanese flags on one of the islets. The incident created an uproar, especially in China. The Global Times, a mainland newspaper that is affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party, ran a photo on its front page on Thursday of an activist standing on an outcrop and waving the Taiwanese flag. Previously, it was unthinkable that a state-run media outlet in Mainland China would ever display on its front page the flag of China’s “breakaway republic”. Friends and Neighbors(Global Times front page photo with Taiwan flag. pic.twitter.com/nA5jLlsD  )
It is tempting to believe that the dispute over ownership of these islands rests on the economic realities of oil and gas. Fishing rights are also important. Fishing boats, trawlers and factory ships from Asia roam the oceans of the world in search of fish and seafood. The China Seas are an important, relatively close, source of food.
But the disputes are also about national pride; they are about World War Two; they are about civil wars and revolution; they are scars that will not heal.
At the end of the Second World War, The San Francisco Peace Treaty settled most things between Japan and the Allied powers. However, the governance of many small territories in the region was not spelled out, neither were China and the two Koreas signatories to the treaty.
Dokdo is another territory that is in dispute; this time between South Korea and Japan. After South Korea’s victory over Japan in the bronze medal soccer game at the recent Olympics, a Korean player held up a sign saying “Dokdo is our territory.” He was barred from receiving his medal for injecting politics into the Games.
These issues remain fresh and emotional even among younger people. It is for this reason and others that the steadying voice, the pragmatic realism of President Ma of Taiwan must be heeded.
The successes of the recent past must not be placed in jeopardy by the failures of history. The countries of the region must move on; they must discover and utilize that which binds them to their mutual advantage.
What now may seem to be huge, insurmountable problems will in the afterglow of mutual success, respect, cooperation and friendship show themselves to be small specks in the ocean.

Share your feedback with us.

Comments are closed.

← Go Back | Commentary Back to Top ↑
THE STAR Newspaper sat-page-01
Magazines available in THE STAR Newspaper
2Nite Magazine for Saturday October 1st, 2016 ~ Issue no. 204
2nite Magazine
Sports & Health Magazine for October 1st, 2016 ~ Issue no. 112
Sports & Health Inc