Ma backs claim to Diaoyus, demands Japanese apology
Lawrence Chung in Taipei
US urges claimants to disputed islets to exercise restraint
Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou insisted yesterday that he backed the island's long-held claim to the disputed Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea.
He has also demanded a formal apology and proper compensation from Japan over the sinking of a Taiwanese boat by a Japanese coastguard vessel near the islets, which are claimed by Taiwan, the mainland and Japan.
In his first direct response to the June 10 incident, Mr Ma insisted he had never changed his position on Taiwan's territorial claim over the Diaoyus.
'In my four-point statement released on June 12, I already stressed that the Diaoyu Islands is a territory of the Republic of China, geologically coming under Taiwan and administratively under the jurisdiction of Ilan county,' he said in Taipei.
Mr Ma, who had faced mockery and criticism by opposition lawmakers for allegedly softening his stance since the sinking, said he had not spoken out right away because that was the responsibility of the island's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Described in the Taiwanese press as a 'hot-blooded patriotic youth' who joined an anti-Japanese movement to stand up to Japan over another Diaoyu dispute when he was in university in 1971, Mr Ma used to be highly critical of the former Democratic Progressive Party government for failing to speak out against Tokyo in previous rows over the islets, which Japan calls the Senkaku Islands.
Mr Ma said that although Japan had expressed 'regrets' and admitted negligence for the coastguard sinking the Taiwanese boat, it was still not an official apology, especially to the captain whose boat was sunk.
'Our foreign ministry will seek further clarification from Japan, hoping that the Japanese side can issue an apology the way those victimised in the case want,' he said.
Thirteen anglers and three crewmen, including the captain, had to jump into the sea when their pleasure boat was slammed by the Japanese coastguard vessel. All 16 were saved by the coastguard an hour later. The Japanese said the boat had intruded into its territorial waters.
The Ma administration initially reacted with caution, but after criticism by both government and opposition lawmakers and protests outside Japan's de facto embassy in Taipei as well as the Taiwanese foreign ministry, the administration toughened its stance.
On Sunday, nine Taiwanese coastguard vessels escorted a Taiwanese boat with 12 activists and 30 journalists aboard on a 'sea protest' against Japan to uphold Taiwan's sovereignty. The Taiwanese boat sailed 0.4 nautical miles from the Diaoyu Islands, marking the first time in three decades any boat from Taiwan had come that close.
The series of actions forced the Japanese coastguard to apologise for the negligence of its crew in causing the Taiwanese boat to sink, though the word used by the Japanese side remained 'regrettable'.
The escalated tension prompted the US State Department to issue a statement. 'As we have stated before, we urge all claimants to exercise restraint and to ensure that this issue is resolved by peaceful means,' State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said on Monday.
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said yesterday Tokyo had agreed with Taiwan to handle the issue calmly.
In Beijing yesterday, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Jiang Yu reiterated concern over the incident and demanded that the Japanese government refrain from illegal activities around the Diaoyus, which she said were part of Chinese territory.
To calm the situation, Mr Ma reportedly asked ruling Kuomintang lawmakers to stop their plan to board a military warship to the disputed waters today to uphold the Taiwanese claim. KMT legislator Lin Yu-fang, who organised the trip, said the plan had been cancelled.
A group of Hong Kong activists arrived in Taiwan yesterday, but said they had abandoned plans to hire a boat to sail to the Diaoyus to uphold the Chinese people's claim to the islets.