Taiwan's Ma Ying-jeou urged to pursue higher level military exchanges

Former generals from Taiwan and the mainland urge greater cross-strait co-operation in order to protect disputed islands from foreign threats

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 January, 2013, 4:22am

Beijing and Taipei should work together to establish a cross-strait military co-operation mechanism in a bid to defend territory in the East and South China seas, retired generals from Taiwan and the mainland have urged.

Admiral Fei Horng-po, formerly Taiwan's deputy chief of general staff, said he had suggested to Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou that he should push for higher level cross-strait military exchanges with Beijing based on the platform provided by the mainland's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (Arats) and Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), as well as talks between the Kuomintang and the Communist Party.

"I suggested President Ma should appoint retired generals to attend the next round of talks between the KMT and the mainland Communist Party," Fei said on the sidelines of a workshop organised by the Chinese Century Communicating Association in Hong Kong on Tuesday.

He said current military exchanges across the strait between retired generals were focused on single-faceted and meaningless friendship-building activities because they were not authorised to go further.

"It's a waste because many of the generals have passions and talents that could help cultivate cross-strait military trust," Fei said. He said Arats and SEF should set up military working teams to expand their negotiating functions.

"Beijing and Taipei have still failed to make a joint declaration to show their consistency on the Diaoyus issue," Fei said. "The problem will be possible to tackle when a cross-strait military working team is set up and authorised by Arats and SEF."

Maritime surveillance vessels from the mainland and Taiwan surprised the Japanese coastguard last week when they encountered each other near the disputed Diaoyu Islands, known as the Senkakus in Japan.

Beijing says that the Diaoyus are Chinese territory as part of the People's Republic of China's province of Taiwan, while Taipei says that the islands belong to Taiwan.

Xu Guangyu , a People's Liberation Army major general and senior researcher at the Beijing-based China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, said both sides urgently needed to put aside their political disagreements and work together to tackle the territorial problem amid an escalation of tensions with Japan.

"The current Diaoyus tension also provides us with a good opportunity to start our military talks, with seeking a consensus and coming up with a collaborative mechanism in disputed areas in the East and South China seas being a must," Xu said.

"Cross-strait military talks could be started ahead of other political issues. For example, we can declare a ceasefire in disputed waters in the East and South China seas and announce a joint cross-strait stance on our goal to defend our sovereignty in those areas to the world."

It is not the first time that officials and generals from both sides of the strait have called on Beijing and Taipei to work together on their maritime territory disputes.

In July 1996, when the rightist Japan Youth Federation built a makeshift lighthouse on one of the uninhabited Diaoyu islands, then SEF secretary general Chiao Jeo-ho called on Beijing and Taipei to discard their political differences and work together to defend the "historic territory of all Chinese".

Former Taiwanese defence minister Wu Shih-wen, who was sent to patrol island chains and islets in the South China Sea when serving in Taiwan's navy in the 1960s and 1980s, said Taiwan never gave up the defence of its sovereignty in the East and South China seas, with its military accumulating many historical documents and hydrologic information over the past six decades to prove the legitimacy of its claims to the islands.

However, he said political considerations meant now was "not the right time for Taipei and Beijing to co-operate with each other".