The efforts of President Ma Ying-jeou of the Republic of China (Taiwan) to seek peace in the East China Sea through bilateral negotiations appear to hold the best promise of resolving the sovereignty of the Diaoyutai Islands that has been the cause of tension between China, Japan and the Republic of China (Taiwan) in the past year.
President Ma’s East China Sea Peace Initiative announced last year suggested that the three nations involved should hold “three-sided bilateral dialogues”, should shelve their differences, pursue peace and reciprocity, and jointly explore the natural resources in the area.
Alongside the joint exploration of natural resources, consensus on other issues, including the development of resources, environmental protection and ocean science research would narrow the areas of dispute.
President Ma’s view that while sovereignty cannot be divided, resources in the area can be shared, is helping the parties find common ground before starting negotiations.
The President of the Republic of China (Taiwan) has suggested that private companies should be invited to participate in future bilateral negotiations, enabling the parties to find common interests more easily.
President Ma understands the need for the Republic of China (Taiwan) Taiwan to focus on vital strategic goals, a major one of which is a way to live freely beside a rising China. His call for restraint and cooperation is a demonstration of his mastery of statecraft.
Many years ago, in 1980 in fact, Ma Ying-jeou, completed his doctoral dissertation on sovereignty disputes in the East China Sea, issues that clearly occupied his mind decades before he attained the presidency of the Republic of China (Taiwan).
While Manland China continues to stifle Taipei’s contributions to international bodies such as the World Health Organization and ICAO, it is even more unacceptable that the Republic of China (Taiwan) is not part of the conversation about territory and territorial waters that it claims as its own.
Taipei has not only faced provocation Tokyo over Japan’s move to nationalize the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, it has also experienced increasing intrusions by Vietnam into its territorial waters around Taiping Island, which lies some 1,000 miles away from Taipei, in the Spratly Islands, a disputed group of more than 750 reefs, islets, atolls, cays, and islands in the South China Sea. The archipelago lies off the coasts of the Philippines, Malaysia, and southern Vietnam. However, possession is nine-tenths of the law, or so they say, and Taiwan occupies the island with its own runway and fresh water.
As with other nations in the region, the major potential threat to Taipei’s sovereignty emanates from an aggressively rising China. The Philippines’s experience over the disputed Scarborough Shoal suggests that compromising with China can be costly. The Philippines offered concessions, which China pocketed and immediately thereafter continued to play the aggressor, making the leadership in Manila appear to be weak appeasers.
When another dispute between the Philippines and China re-emerged, the USA advised Manila to de-escalate tensions over the Liancourt Rocks. The rocks, which are clearly within the 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone of the Philippines, remain under the control of the Mainland Chinese with their civilian law-enforcement vessels and fishing fleet, and, just over the horizon, the military might of their navy.
The Republic of China (Taiwan) needs an effective strategy for countering Chinese pressure. Clearly, what Taipei most needs is greater economic and political support. Trade agreements with other nations protect the republic on Taiwan from excessive dependence on the Mainland. Trans-Pacific interests, global engagement, and political integration are areas that are increasingly important to the republic’s prosperity.
Leaders at many an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, endorse the inclusion of the Republic of China (Taiwan) in present and future Code of Conduct discussions that have long been underway between ASEAN and China.
While Beijing resists Taipei’s participation, the region cannot but be impressed by President Ma’s innovative proposals that address the prosperity and security of the whole region. If the President’s words are heeded, Taipei could take the lead in establishing badly constructive dialogue and confidence-building measures by flying international groups of experts, scientist, financiers, and perhaps even politicians to disputed islands to deliberate over constructive ideas for cooperation in regard to fishing, maritime safety, exploration and exploitation, and other contentious issues and maybe find ways of turning them into building blocks for peace.
When Ma Ying-jeou wrote his doctoral dissertation in the early 1980s, he looked at legal disputes in the context of a Peking-Taipei rivalry. His proposal for a new peace initiative and restraint has been maturing for some three decades. The time would appear to be ripe for the United States, ASEAN members, Japan, and the Republic of China (Taiwan) to safeguard their strategic interests and simultaneously relieve tensions in the South and East China Seas.