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Taiwan-Japan dispute: To recall or not to recall

Publication Date : 19-09-2012


The ongoing diplomatic row between Taiwan and Japan regarding the disputed Diaoyutai Islands has not yet come to a peaceful conclusion.

In fact it has only intensified with Tokyo's controversial move “nationalising” three islets in the East China Sea island group last week.

Taiwan has lodged several rounds of protests to Tokyo and repeatedly warned its East Asian neighbour not to take the drastic move which could jeopardise bilateral ties by infringing on Taiwan's claim over the islands.

Tokyo, however, apparently was not listening. It formally sealed the deal with the so-called private owner of the islets for 2.05 billion yen (US$31 million) last Tuesday.

Japan's action immediately drew strong protest from Taiwan, triggering Foreign Minister Timothy Yang's move to summon the Japanese envoy to Taiwan.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Mofa) also announced that it had asked its top representative to Japan, Shen Ssu-tsun, to return to Taiwan and explain the current situation of the matter to local officials.

Aside from reiterating its stance that the Diaoyutais are part of the Republic of China's inherent territory, the government has also continued to urge Japan to show “good will” which may ease bilateral tension amid the recent row.

But so far, Tokyo has yet to make any concrete move to show respect to Taiwan and to convince the local government that it cherishes its friendship.

Instead, the Japanese government has only issued a statement via its de facto embassy in Taiwan, the Japan Interchange Association, to reiterate its vague slogan that Taiwan is an important partner of Japan while calling for the resumption of bilateral fishery talks.

Tokyo's lukewarm attitude toward Taiwan once again reveals the sad reality of the island nation's diplomatic isolation on the international stage.

Even though Taiwan has donated more money to Japan than any other country in the world in the aftermath of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, the Japanese government has been ignoring Taiwan's repeated protests.

We cannot blame our government for Taiwan's diplomatic isolation.

We would, however, like to ask the ruling administration to propose a concrete plan toward solving the dispute with Tokyo as soon as possible.

So far the Taiwanese public has not been given a clue as to how the government is going to handle the situation — except issuing one protest after another and repeatedly reiterating the nation's territorial claims.

What the government is doing now hardly constitutes a morale boost to the nation.

Interestingly enough, the government has also been quite vague with regard to the nature of Shen's return.

Mofa initially announced that Shen was instructed to return to Taiwan. It even specifically told members of the media not to use the word “recall” when referring to the envoy's return. And yet only a day later, the ministry decided to rephrase its remark by saying that Shen's homecoming could be seen as a form of “recall.”

The ministry's indecision on the use of the diplomatic term has been shocking to many.

After all, the word “recall” used in diplomatic terms means a serious step to indicate displeasure, which is only one stop short of breaking diplomatic relations with another country.

The recalling of an envoy means that the embassy (or representative office) in question can continue to function, but the step is intended to convey strong disapproval of another country's actions or policies — an ultimatum of sorts before the two sides officially break ties.

Mofa originally decided to avoid the use of the word “recall,” and used the less strong phrase “instructed to return” to create room for negotiations.

But it changed this approach overnight reportedly because President Ma Ying-jeou had already used the word “recall” when he spoke about Shen's homecoming during a ruling Kuomintang (KMT) meeting in his capacity as KMT chairman.

This incident shows a disturbing inconsistency within our government — the fact of which is hardly reassuring to the public; does the ruling administration know exactly what it is doing during this diplomatic row?

To recall or not to recall, that is the question. But the more important question is whether or not the Ma administration can come up with enough bargaining chips during the diplomatic wrestling in the trilateral negotiation over the Diaoyutais.


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