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China, Taiwan form 'tag team' over disputed islands

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Publication Date : 27-09-2012


Beijing gives blessing to recent incursion funded by business group active on both sides of strait

As 52 Taiwan fishing boats and patrol vessels entered Japan's territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture on Tuesday, the news was being beamed back to Taiwan.

"Approaching the 12 nautical miles of Tiaoyutai," one Taiwan reporter said as the flotilla approached the islands. Moments later, the reporter sent an update: "We're within 12 nautical miles of Tiaoyutai."

Subtitles flashed on the screen as updates came in. With 62 Taiwan reporters aboard the ships, there was continuous coverage of the fleet as it played cat-and-mouse for several hours with Japan Coast Guard (JCG) vessels in waters near the islands called Tiaoyutai or Diaoyutai in Taiwan and Diaoyu in China.

When JCG patrol ships began spraying water at the Taiwan fishing boats, Taiwan Coast Guard Administration patrol boats that were accompanying the fleet replied by firing their water cannons at the JCG vessels. Taiwan TV reporters described the tense exchange as it happened in front of them.

This mass protest was financially supported by Taiwan's Want Want Holdings Ltd., which donated 5 million Taiwan dollars (about 13.3 million Japanese yen or US$171,237.5) to help cover the flotilla's fuel costs.

Want Want operates a food manufacturing business in China, where its products such as confectionery are widely distributed. In Taiwan, the group—which is regarded as pro-China—has a TV station and a newspaper company under its umbrella in addition to hotel and real estate businesses. The group is flush with capital.

The Taiwan fishing boats displayed banners that said, "Tiaoyutai belongs to Taiwan" as well as the name of a Want Want group company.

The corporate-supported flotilla's entry into Japanese waters near the Senkakus was likely a public relations boon for Want Want in both China and Taiwan.

Taiwan fishermen reportedly operated around the Senkaku Islands until about 1970, when they were barred from entering the waters after Japan adopted strict controls following claims by Taiwan and China to the islands.

Angry Taiwan fishermen joined in criticism that President Ma Ying-jeou was weak-kneed and demanded, "The administration should step up pressure on Japan." Ma responded by sending patrol boats to escort the fishing boats.

On the Senkaku issue, Ma has repeatedly stated he would not cooperate with China. But Tuesday's events gave the impression China and Taiwan were working in tandem, and came after several recent incursions in the waters by Chinese vessels.

When Taiwan fishing boats left for the islands Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei expressed clear support for Taiwan. "Compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan Strait should work together, placing the Chinese nation's sense of honour at the forefront," he said.

Before that, Jia Qinglin, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, called for a united front when he met former Taiwan Vice President Lien Chan on Sept. 18. Jia holds the fourth-highest position in the Chinese Communist Party's hierarchy. "Both sides of the strait should overcome their differences and work together to safeguard the nation's territorial integrity, interests and dignity through their own means," Jia reportedly said.

Meanwhile, China has also reached out to South Korea on territorial issues involving Japan. At UN headquarters in New York on Monday, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told his South Korean counterpart Kim Sung Hwan that the order of Northeast Asia would face a challenge if nations linked to the Senkaku issue do not have a correct view of history.

His remark indicates China wants to bring South Korea into its corner, as Japan claims sovereignty over the South Korean-occupied Takeshima islands, in an effort to have the international community better recognise the frictions Japan has with its neighbours.


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