‘It’s like a slap in the face’: Taiwan’s outgoing leader Ma Ying-jeou snubbed over Japan’s seizure of fishing boat and crew
Taipei slams Tokyo’s ‘pirate-like’ action and demand of NT$1.7 million ‘ransom’
Taiwan’s outgoing President Ma Ying-jeou has been snubbed over Japan’s detention of a Taiwanese fishing boat and its captain.
The incident comes just three weeks before Ma is slated to hand over the reins of power to the leader of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, Tsai Ing-wen, on May 20.
Analysts say the incident has deeply embarrassed Ma, who has been trumpeting the success of his East China Sea Peace Initiative, which he had proposed in 2012. Taiwan signed a fishery cooperation pact with Japan the following year.
They said Ma also hoped to use the move as a resolution to ease growing tensions in the South China Sea, where a group of islets and atolls, are claimed in part or wholly by Taiwan, mainland China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
“The incident is like a slap on his face, dashing his hope of leaving behind a legacy of promoting peace and reconciliation in the waters surrounding Taiwan,” said Wang Kung-yi, a professor of international relations and strategic studies at Tamkang University in Taipei.
The boat, Tung Sheng Chi No. 16, was operating 160 nautical miles in the disputed waters near the Okinotori atoll in the Pacific Ocean when it was seized by Japanese coastguards on Monday. Ten crew members, including the skipper, were detained.
Later, Japan demanded that the skipper pay NT$1.7 million (HK$408,000) as a “security deposit” for the release of the boat and its crew.
The family of the skipper agreed on Tuesday to pay what the Kuomintang described as a “ransom” and wired the money to Tokyo. The payment led to the release of the boat and its crew members.
The incident sparked an angry response from Taiwan, whose foreign ministry on Wednesday called the action “highly unacceptable” and said the Taiwanese government would do its best to protect its fishermen.
Calling the seizure a “pirate-like” action and the claim of NT$1.7 million for the release of the boat and its crew members a “ransom,” the KMT urged both the ruling and the opposition parties as well as president-elect Tsai Ing-wen to denounce Japan’s action.
On Wednesday, Ma held a security meeting to discuss about its impact and how to tackle the incident. Earlier, he held a meeting on Monday when the seizure came to light.
At stake is the unilateral declaration of the 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone by Japan.
“The size of the two reefs of the so-called Okinotori atoll is about the size of two table tennis tables. They cannot be considered an island and should never provide the basis for Japan to declare such a zone,” KMT said.
In Beijing, An Fengshan, a spokesman of the Chinese State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said on Wednesday that the mainland authorities were deeply concerned about the case, as “it is the duty of the two sides of the Taiwan Strait to protect the legal rights and benefits of fishermen from the two sides operating in [international] waters”.