Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Japan has a funny way of promoting cross straits unity

Last week, a Japanese frigate, Koshiki, on patrol collided with Lien Ho, a deep sea sports fishing boat from Taiwan, an incident that was virtually ignored by the media in the West. Yet future developments from this provocation will bear close watching.

The incident took place in the disputed waters of a cluster of 8 uninhabited islands that China and Taiwan claimed as part of Taiwan called Diaoyu islands. Japan claimed the same islands, which they called Senkaku as part of Okinawa.

According to the Japanese coast guard on patrol, while they were in the process of establishing the identity of the fishing boat, the boat began to take an evasive course and ran into the frigate; apparently it zigged when it should have zagged.

According to the Taiwanese crew, the Japanese frigate found them in their search light, hailed them and then suddenly steered the much heavier ship into the fore section of the fishing boat causing a huge gash and sank the boat in one hour.

Lien Ho’s crew of 3 and its 13 customers were fished from the waters by Koshiki and taken to Ishigaki, the southernmost island of the Ryukyus. The sports fishermen were shortly released, then the crew of 2 and lastly the captain of the boat.

The crew upon their return asserted that their Japanese captors used harsh, sleep deprived interrogation techniques and demanded that they sign confessions in Japanese that they did not comprehend.

The captain maintained that the frigate deliberately rammed his boat. The captain made his living by taking deep sea fishing enthusiasts to these islands and has never heretofore encountered the Japanese Navy.

The Diaoyu islands have been a periodic focus of vigorous dispute between China, the Chinese Diaspora and Japan ever since the U.S. turned Okinawa back to Japan in 1972. Then as now, China and Taiwan were separate entities. Though both contend that Diaoyu islands were connected to Taiwan and not Okinawa, their divided voices did not have the international clout of Japan, already considered an ally of the U.S.

It remained for the Chinese Diaspora to carry on the argument with Japan, most notably from Hong Kong and from the San Francisco Bay Area. Hong Kong still remembers David Chan, one of the activist leaders, who tragically drowned while attempting to swim to one of the islands in 1996.

Japan claimed administrative control over the islands when the U.S. returned Okinawa to Japan. All the Chinese in the world have responded that the islands were administered as part of Taiwan dating back to the Qing dynasty and were ceded to Japan in the unequal treaty of 1895. When Taiwan reverted to China in 1945, the Diaoyu islands should have been part of the package except the U.S. was still holding onto them.

This latest incident raises some disturbing questions about Japan’s motives. Did Fukuda’s government ordered this provocation or was it an initiative of a lower ranking official?

Was it Japan’s intention to test the resolve of the newly elected president of Taiwan, Ma Ying-jeou? Harvard educated Ma in his youth was a prominent activist for the return of the Diaoyu islands to Taiwan. He even wrote a thesis on this subject.

To complicate matters, Taiwan’s resident envoy in Tokyo was recalled in part to show Taiwan government’s displeasure with Japan and in part to express their dissatisfaction with the envoy for being “soft” with Tokyo. The envoy, an appointee of Ma’s predecessor Chen Shui-bian, has since resigned.

In a show of bravado, the Taiwan navy cutters have escorted some protest ships to the Diaoyu islands to stake their claim in response to the ramming incident. Some of the emotional responses from Taiwan even suggested going to war with Japan. They pointed out that Russia and South Korea have been successful in resolving their disputes with Japan by forceful possession of the islands in dispute.

Realistically, Taiwan does not have the navy to take on Japan. Some Bay Area Chinese have asked why Beijing has not been more active in the dispute. Understandably, since Taiwan has not yet returned to China’s fold, Beijing is in the awkward position of having to defer to Taiwan’s lead.

However, Taiwan and China has just concluded the first successful bi-lateral meeting where both parties agreed to begin weekend direct flights carrying up to 3000 passengers daily across the straits in each direction. This is herald as the first step to significant warming of relations across the straits. See O'Neill for a comprehensive analysis to date.

By becoming the adversary of an issue that both Taiwan and China find emotional common ground, the ultimate irony is for Japan to be the catalyst pushing the two sides to even speedier and closer cooperation.

See edited version in New America Media.


Anonymous said...

Sad, indeed, that these kind of stories are not in the media as they should be. Scary to consider what is really behind that!

Unknown said...

Japan deliberately doing this? Sounds nutty. Why in the world would they bother? What conceivable motive? How is that possibility more plausible than the possibility that a fishing boat afraid of being caught engaging in illegal deep-sea fishing accidentally hit the Japanese boat while trying to escape?

George said...


One indication that the fishing boat was not "illegal" is Japan's most recent action: Their envoy went to the Taiwanese captain's home to extend official apology and offer of compensation.