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Chances of military conflict over Diaoyutais slim: scholars

2012/09/14 21:10:53

Taipei, Sept. 14 (CNA) Chances are not high that growing tensions over the disputed Diaoyutai Islands will lead to armed conflict despite Japan's recent move to nationalize the archipelago, Taiwanese scholars said recently.

Earlier this week, the Japanese government decided in a Cabinet meeting to spend 2.05 billion Japanese yen (US$26 million) to buy three of the Diaoyutai islands from a private owner, drawing sharp rebukes from Taiwan and China, which also claim the islands.

China also sent patrol boats into waters near the island chain, which lies about 100 nautical miles northeast of Taiwan in the resource-rich East China Sea and is currently under Japan's administrative control.

Professor Wang Kao-cheng told CNA that he expected the parties involved to continue to assert their sovereignty claims and saw Taiwan and China as extending their protests over Japan's move.

None of the parties involved in the row, however, want to see a military conflict arising from the territorial dispute, said Wang, a professor with Tamkang University's Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies.

"I think the chance of a military conflict is relatively low," he said. "If there's any conflict, it's more likely to happen among the three sides' maritime law enforcement authorities."

In the face of pressure from Taiwan and China, Wang said the Japanese government will communicate with them more intensively to explain the decision to nationalize the Diaoyutais and reduce tensions.

Tokyo said that it had no immediate plans after buying the Diaoyutai islets to go a step further and build new infrastructure, such as lighthouses and emergency shelters, there, according to media reports.

That was an important gesture by Japan to dissipate the anger of Taiwan and China over the nationalization move, Wang said.

Professor Ho Szu-shen, director of the Center for Japan Studies of Fu Jen Catholic University in New Taipei, shared Wang's view that the chance of military conflict arising from the dispute over the Diaoyutais is slim.

"A conflict is of no interest to any party," Ho told CNA in a recent interview, whether Taiwan, Japan, China and even the United States.

Both Wang and Ho see the United States as also playing a significant role in the Diaoyutais dispute.

Washington has expressed hope during the recent tensions that the dispute will be "handled calmly" and "handled through dialogue."

Despite being a close ally of Japan, the United States will not endorse a "provocative move" by Tokyo that could threaten stability in the region, Ho said.

Meanwhile, Wang also raised the concern that Taiwan is being neglected in the Diaoyutais row, noting that Japan sent a foreign ministry official to China to explain its move to nationalize the islands in an attempt to ease tensions but did not do the same with Taiwan.

Japan's Interchange Association -- which represents Japanese interests in Taiwan in the absence of diplomatic ties -- issued a statement on Thursday instead, which said Japan hopes the developments related to the Senkakus, as the islands are known in Japan, will not hurt Taiwan-Japan ties.

It also recognized Taiwan as an important partner of Japan in terms of people-to-people and economic exchanges, in what was the Japanese agency's first public comments since Japan's purchase of the three islets.

Wang added that Japan seems unlikely to negotiate on sovereignty over the Diaoyutais with Taiwan, but it is more likely to discuss the matter of fishing rights with Taiwan.

Asked how Taiwan should enhance its visibility in the dispute, Wang suggested that the government take more "concrete" actions to bolster its territorial claim, including continuing to dispatch Coast Guard personnel to protect Taiwanese fishermen operating in waters near the Diaoyutai.

"We should also let China understand that Taiwan is concerned about the issue," he said, adding that Taiwan should be able to engage in the dialogue to resolve the dispute.

Ho shared the view that Taiwan should increase the frequency of Coast Guard patrols in those waters to protect Taiwanese fishermen operating there.

Taiwan should even send its Coast Guard ships to 12 nautical miles off the Diaoyutai Islands as part of a strategy to safeguard the country's sovereignty over the islets, Ho added.

Wang also proposed that Taiwanese lawmakers pay a visit to the island group.

His suggestion came after President Ma Ying-jeou led a group of senior government officials and lawmakers to Taiwan-held Pengjia Islet, which lies 33 nautical miles off Taiwan's northernmost tip and 76 nautical miles west of the Diaoyutais.

During his trip there, Ma gave further details of the East China Sea Peace Initiative he proposed in early August, including how the initiative should be implemented.

To resolve the dispute through peaceful means, Ma encouraged the involved parties -- Taiwan, Japan and China -- to first conduct three parallel tracks of bilateral dialogue and then move to a single track of trilateral negotiations.

As the three parallel talks make progress, trilateral negotiations can proceed, according to Ma's plan.

Both Wang and Ho applauded Ma's proposal, which they said will help explore the possibility of expanding current bilateral dialogue among the three sides to broach issues related to the Diaoyutais dispute.

(By Elaine Hou)