Taiwan, Japan Squabble Over Ownership of Islets
By WENDELL MINNICK TAIPEI — Taipei and Tokyo are exchanging barbs over five uninhabited islets surrounded by rich fishing grounds and potential naturalgas deposits.
In the latest event of three years of rising tensions, the Japanese Coast Guard vessel Koshiki rammed the Taiwanese fishing boat Lienhe after trying to force it out of the area on June 10. The Lienhe sank and the Koshiki rescued all 16 fishermen. Few expect the dispute to bring military action.
“The likelihood for military confrontation does not exist because this option has not been considered by both Taiwan and Japan governments,” said Arthur Ding, a military affairs expert at Taiwanbased National Chengchi University’s Institute of International Relations. “A military confrontation by Japan will completely ruin Japan’s image in China and Southeast Asia and give ammunition to China’s nationalism; Taiwan lacks the necessary capability for a confrontation.” Yet some in all three countries want to exert military force.
“Some conservative segments of Japanese society may argue that we should have stronger defense of the islands, not just by Coast Guard ships but by Maritime SelfDefense Force ships and air defense,” said Masashi Nishihara, president of the Tokyo-based Research Institute for Peace and Security. “It is interesting to see if the government will call for naval ships to support Coast Guard ships. I personally think our naval ships should come closer to the islands area to help protect our Coast Guard ships.” Masashi believes the United States will pressure Taipei against a military provocation with Japan. China also wants Taipei to avoid provocations with Tokyo.
But the dispute could push China and Taiwan closer together, Masashi said. After the June 10 incident, Beijing was quick to support Taiwan’s claim to the islets.
Located 106 miles north of Ishigaki Island, Japan, and 116 miles northeast of Keelung, Taiwan, the islets are administrated by the Japanese, which call them the Senkaku, but claimed by China and Taiwan, which calls them Tiaoyutai. Tokyo claims they are part of Japan’s Ryukyu Islands, but a sea trench separates them.
“Geologically speaking, the island is an extension of Taiwan’s Mount Datun,” Ding said. China and Taiwan advanced their claims in the 1970s after a U.N. study team announced that the area had rich seabed resources. “In 1992, China enacted a law that mentioned that the Senkaku islands belong to People’s Republic of China,” Masashi said.
The incident was the first international crisis to face Taiwan’s new president Ma Ying-jeou.
The incident came only a couple months after Japan began the process of making its official claim to the islets to the United Nations under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
In March, Japan submitted charts outlining its territorial claims to the U.N. and plans to do the same with continental shelves beyond 200 nautical miles.