Thursday, May 20, 2010
Taiwan’s Senkaku activists eye Chinese cash
By MARTIN WILLIAMS
TAIPEI — With political and financial patronage drying up at home, Taiwan-based activists are working on an international alliance to claim the Senkaku Islands for China.
The uninhabited islands, which lie between Taiwan and Okinawa, are claimed by Beijing, Taipei and Tokyo.
For the governments, the larger issues over the islets — known in Taiwan and China as the Diaoyutai — have been territorial control and exploiting oil and natural gas reserves.
For Taiwanese fishermen, however, the dispute has led to ongoing confrontations with Japanese patrol vessels and exclusion from what they claim to be ancestral fishing grounds.
A Taiwanese activist group, the Chinese Diaoyutai Defense Association, has responded to the impasse by merging a claim of Chinese sovereignty over the islands with advocacy for the fishing industry.
Drawn from a loose, decades-old coalition known as the Alliance for the Defense of Diaoyutai, the group was registered in 2008 after its application was rejected by the government of then President Chen Shui-bian the year before.
The group claims 100 members from around Taiwan and organizes activities in parks and university campuses every two to three months to promote its cause.
It hopes by the end of the year to travel again to the disputed waters on chartered vessels but may not be able to pull off such an event given its experience with government intervention in 2009.
Huang Hsi-lin, secretary general of the group, said he learned from that aborted campaign and will be more secretive in preparing expeditions.
Previous campaigns have seen shore landings, arrests, an activist vessel being rammed by a Japanese patrol ship and, in 1996, the death of an activist from Hong Kong.
This year, complications are already emerging.
On April 30, Taipei announced an agreement with Tokyo to strengthen ties in various sectors after a period of tension stemming from sovereignty issues, including the Senkaku dispute.
Notably, the agreement includes enhanced communications on maritime security.
Meanwhile, the Ma Ying-jeou administration is beginning to ask questions about the association’s intentions this year, potentially threatening boat operators with impoundment and cancellation of licenses.
More seriously for the association, ennui among the general public and the disappearance of local sources of funding have forced activists to turn to businesspeople in China to fund their activism.
Huang declined to name companies, locations or businesses for fear they would suffer retribution from Chinese authorities, but he did say his group had approached them “reluctantly.”
Skeptical observers who sense more ideology than pragmatism in this agenda may feel vindicated by deepening ties between this group and Diaoyutai activists in China, Hong Kong and Macau, as well as overseas Chinese groups in the Americas and Europe.
Huang said the groups are working to build a formal alliance, though more talks are needed to integrate groups from outside Asia.
A conference of delegates from all locations set for Sept. 11 at the National Central Library in Taipei is expected to accelerate formation of an umbrella organization.
After that, the groups will look to June 17, 2011, the 40th anniversary of what Huang says was the day the United States granted sovereignty over the group of islets to Japan.
To mark the occasion, Huang envisages a flotilla of activists setting out from ports around the region and converging on the islands.
“We’d be beyond the control of the Taiwan authorities. Ma won’t be able to do a thing if the boats are coming from everywhere, not just from Taiwan,” he said.
The association is a marginal activist group, but it is linked to a wider network of Taiwanese organizations and individuals with more mainstream appeal and influence.
On March 27, in a statement released by the prounification Chinatide Association, the Chinese Diaoyutai Defense Association was named as a member of the Cross-Strait Peaceful Development Forum, a new gathering of organizations including leftist groups, Greater China nationalists, Chinese immigrant advocates and publishing companies that support unification.
Award-winning Taiwanese film director Hou Hsiao-hsien was one of the keynote speakers at the founding ceremony for the forum, whose goals include abolition of the Taiwan Relations Act, the U.S. law that authorizes military assistance for Taiwan, and ending U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.
But Huang was adamant his group represents the interests of fishermen first and would happily consider a deal with Tokyo that allows access for fishermen without invoking sovereignty.
“The thing is, we’re not willing to tilt toward China; we have our own approach to matters,” he said. “The problem is that Taiwan-Japan government relations have put the squeeze on us, the defenders of Diaoyutai, forcing us to look elsewhere for support.”
Huang repeatedly complained of pressure from the Ma government, partly because it wants to improve relations with Tokyo, but also because of close ties with Japan among legislators on both sides of the political fence.
Sunday, May 2, 2010
READERS IN COUNCIL
Share Okinawa’s military burden
By DONALD SEEKINS
Regarding the April 28 article “Hatoyama edges nearer decision about Futenma”: Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has been getting a lot of criticism for ambiguities relating to relocation of U.S. Marine Air Station Futenma, and Okinawans are understandably feeling betrayed now that it seems the new base will remain inside the prefecture.
In my opinion, the base should be moved to some other part of Japan because the nation as a whole benefits from the security relationship with Washington, and Japanese outside of Okinawa have a duty to share what should be a national — not just Okinawa’s — burden.
Normally, I would be opposed to foreign bases in Japan or any other country, but the situation in East Asia is peculiar. States in the region — including China, North and South Korea, and Japan — are extremely nationalistic and there is no regional institutional framework such as the European Union or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to negotiate and mitigate interstate conflicts, especially never-ending territorial disputes such as China and Japan’s claims to the Senkaku/Diaoyutai islands.
The diplomatic atmosphere is often polluted by jingoism and “blood and soil” rhetoric that reminds me of Europe before 1914. In such an environment, the U.S. military presence plays a stabilizing role; without it, the region would probably be plunged into a costly and dangerous arms race that might involve deployment of nuclear weapons not only by China and North Korea but South Korea and Japan.
East Asian political leaders should begin the long process of building a strong regional framework for peaceful cooperation. But until that happens, the American presence seems to be the least of many evils. And mainland Japanese, rather than becoming hysterical over North Korea and other, often-fantasized, threats to their homeland, should suck it in and accept a U.S. base in their part of the country.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.