Ma backs Taiwan protesters over disputed islands

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 September, 2012, 3:50pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 September, 2012, 3:54pm

Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou on Tuesday voiced support for dozens of Taiwanese boats that entered territorial waters around bitterly disputed East China Sea islands to press Taipei’s claim.

His comments came after dozens of Taiwanese fishing boats escorted by coastguard vessels traded water cannon fire with Japanese vessels around the the disputed islands claimed by Taipei, Tokyo and Beijing.

“President Ma supports the fishermen’s patriotic actions and acknowledges the coastguard for claiming our sovereignty while protecting the fishermen,” his office said in a statement.

“Ma urges the Japanese side to respect our fishermen’s rights in their ancestral fishing ground ... and hopes that all parties involved will peacefully resolve the disputes to share the resources in the East China Sea.”

Japanese coastguard ships sprayed water at the fishing vessels, footage on national broadcaster NHK showed, with the Taiwanese patrol boats retaliating by directing their own high-pressure hoses at the Japanese ships.

Taiwan’s coastguard confirmed that nearly 60 boats got close to the islands, some coming within three nautical miles – well inside the 12-nautical-mile territorial exclusion zone.

“We are acting on behalf of Taiwanese fishermen to defend our rights to fishing in the area and to protect our livelihood,” said Tu Cheng-yuan, an official at the Suao fishermen’s association which organised the protest.

Japan administers the uninhabited, but strategically well-positioned archipelago under the name Senkaku, which is called Diaoyu in Chinese.

The intrusion complicates Japan’s already volatile territorial dispute with China. Taiwan has said that officers aboard some of the patrol ships sent to the area are fully-armed elite coastguard personnel.