Monday, September 10, 2012

Rounding Up the Island Disputes Mess

At the Municipal Museum in Chiayi City. Floors 1 and 3 may be safely ignored, but the second floor has a large collection of fossils, mostly shells, from sites in the Chiayi area. Here I ponder a block of creatures from another time, one fossil to another.

In a long discussed move, Japan has confirmed that the government has purchased the Senkaku (Diaoyutai in Beijing and Taipei) Islands (BBC report). Taipei has already stated it will not recognize any such purchase since the ROC owns those islands (just as it owns Mongolia and Tibet). Indeed, the ROC representative in Tokyo chided the Japanese in a newspaper article, saying they must work toward solving the "territorial dispute." President Ma meanwhile made a two-hour trip to Pengjia Islet, to shake his fist at the Japanese. Yawn.

President Ma has called for three nation (Taipei, Beijing, Tokyo) talks on the various island issues, which he calls the 東海和平倡議. Yes, the "east sea" as a friend pointed out, a Chinese term. Ma, no pragmatist, constantly references his Chinese identity in affairs like this; the seas are "east" from the perspective of China (full text of his speech).

ROC spokespersons invariably use "Taiwan" in these disputes. The obvious goal of all this "Taiwan" talk, reinforced in the media which sloppily attributes the ROC claim to the Senkakus to "Taiwan", is to get the Taiwanese people to identify with the ROC in this matter and to make a dent in their love of Japan by making them imagine that "Taiwan" owns the Senkakus. Very slick and slippery. For some Taiwanese it appears to be working.

In addition, Taipei's attempts to increase its position in the island disputes is an obvious move to make foreign policy progress somewhere, anywhere. Since the KMT and CCP agreed on the "diplomatic truce" the Ma government has had nothing to show for five years of diplomacy: ECFA is a bust, the Ryan Leaf of trade agreements, no FTAs, no new "diplomatic allies" and no real increased participation in international organizations. The island disputes offer scope for President Ma to look assertive and protective of the national polity, to look like a Big Man. This is a common approach for political leaders the world over: when the economy is sputtering and domestic affairs are a mess, make a bold move in foreign policy! As the Taipei Times noted in an editorial, the problem is that Ma risks aligning Taiwan with Beijing in the dispute, which would undermine its own sovereignty, and of course, Taiwan lacks the clout to bring either Beijing or Tokyo to the table.

Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums! Delenda est, baby.


Marc said...

Ah yes, I'm remembering Reagan's heroic invasion of Grenada when the US economy was tanking.

Readin said...


Would that include Obama's 'heroic' (and illegal) bombing of Libya when the US economy was tanking?

Carter's Iran raid while the economy was in the doldrums?

Or maybe Clinton's (illegal) bombing of Serbia when the economy was doing fine? Or Bush's invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan while the economy was doing fine?

I'm guessing you didn't really give a lot of thought to this. You just picked an invasion by a president you don't like that occurred during a bad economy and claimed that he did it because of the bad economy.

However, the record for America doesn't show a strong correlation between the economy and the beginning of combat. There is plenty of reason to question the wisdom of many of America's decisions, but suggestions that our recent* presidents are sociopaths without consciences who are willing to see a lot of people die just so they can get re-elected don't survive scrutiny.

* I say "recent" because one could make a strong case that a president with a strong moral compass and backbone wouldn't have started the Spanish-American War.

Tommy said...

I wonder if something else is at play besides the desire of ROC officials to Taiwanify ROC territorial disputes. I don't doubt that such a strategy is possible, but I have noticed in recent weeks how frequently the SCMP (no lover of Taiwan independence), refers to ROC territorial claims or viewpoints as "Taiwanese". It is possible that this is yet another sign of an identity shift, where China is unconsciously being displaced as Taiwan's center even among pro-China types within Asia (but excluding China proper). This does not make it healthy for Taiwan to adopt ROC territorial disputes, but it may provide a more convincing rationale as a whole.

les said...

Readin, do you think Maggie Thatcher would have been re-elected in '83 if she'd chosen diplomacy over the issue of the Falklands Islands in '82?

Anonymous said...

Good morning Michael.This is my first time to come to your blog.I came here from japan through Topix.Your blog is good! As to senkaku islands,I simply think people of taiwan should exclude the allegation of PRC before they claim the issue against japan,espcially if they want to keep themselves indeipendent from PRC. They seems to me illogical sometimes.

Andrew Kerslake said...

Thanks for the Ryan Leaf reference.

Marc said...

"Would that include Obama's 'heroic' (and illegal) bombing of Libya when the US economy was tanking?"

No, it would not.

Readin said...


I can't say. I was young enough and internetless enough that I was only following US politics at the time and I've never been interested enough in British politics to go back and study it closely.

Do you think that Thatcher would have been able recover the stolen islands diplomatically?

I've heard (though again I've never pursued the matter closely) that the Argentine invasion was the kind of thing Mr. Turton described - an attempt by the rulers of Argentina to distract the people with a foreign adventure. If that is the case it seems hard to imagine them allowing Britain to have the islands back peacefully.

Is there a suggestion being made that Thatcher somehow caused Argentina to invade so she would have an excuse to go to war and shore up her popularity? Did she bribe the Argentine rulers somehow?

Readin said...

The Asia Sentinal article suggesting Japan cede the Senkakus and Dokdo was just plain silly in most ways. However there might be a case for formally ceding Dokdo, which is apparantly already in S. Korean hands anyway and might make sense as a way to remove one irritant in a relationship with an ally.

The first two paragraphs try to draw an interesting parallel between Argentina and Chile getting Papal help in settling a disputre, and the possibility of Japan and S. Korea getting help from the ICU. However the Holy See has a credibility the ICU doesn't. There was no reason to think the Holy See would favor one side or the other for political reasons. Whatever corruption was once in the Vatican, what is there now seems genuinely focused on religious pursuits rather then the acquisition of wealth and power. The peoples of two Catholic countries can be reasonably imagined to accept a ruling from the Vatican.

However the ICU has no such legitimacy. It is formed by political actors trying to gain advantage for their countries or for themselves. The concept of "international law" as it is too often practiced today doesn't have the kind of legitimacy that the modern Papacy has. In fact if anything modern international law far more closely resembles the past corruptions of the Vactican, like those that led to the Reformation.

Readin said...


Did you get a T-Shirt?

Anonymous said...

The Apple Daily (in Chinese) reported on Sept 12, 2012 that, when responding to reporters' request for his opinion about the Senkaku issue, the influential president Lee Teng-Hui said: "It's none of our business."

When commenting on Ma Ying-Jeou's call for three-set bilateral talks among Japan, "Chinese Taipei" and China, the 91 year old president Lee said: "No one cares about what he has to say."

For years, Lee has always maintained that Japan has the sovereignty over the Senkakus. The only unresolved issue between Taiwan and Japan is the assurance of Taiwanese fishers' right to fish around the Senkaku area.

Lee further noted that the Taiwanese people don't care about the Senkaku dispute, their main concern is the worsening economic and social conditions within Taiwan.

Anonymous said...

" ... might make sense ..."