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May 30, 2017

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In island dispute, Taiwan lacks both carrot and stick

President Ma Ying-jeou paid an inspection visit to Pengjia Islet, or Agincourt, last Friday. His purpose was to emphasize Taiwan's sovereignty over the Tiaoyutai Islands, which the Japanese call the Senkakus and claim as their inherent territory just as China does. The purpose was served.

The sovereignty dispute, which arose after a U.N. survey indicated that there are vast oil reserves under the waters of the tiny uninhabited islets, which the Chinese call the Diaoyu Islands. Tensions are mounting between China and Japan with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's decision to nationalize the Senkaku Islands, three of which ultra-nationalist Governor of Tokyo Shintaro Ishihara would like to buy if he could to defend against an imagined imminent Chinese takeover. Taiwan has to do something for self-preservation in the new conflict among the three sovereignty claimants.

That something is the "East China Sea Peace Initiative" Ma proclaimed, coincidentally 60 years after the Peace Treaty of Taipei went into force. Under the treaty, signed on April 28, 1952, Japan renounced Taiwan and its appertaining islands, which were returned to the Republic of China. Ma's initiative calls for shelving the sovereignty dispute in order to jointly develop the Tiaoyutais' resources, but that call fell on deaf ears. So, he flew to Taiwan's northernmost island of Pengjia to announce an action plan to make the East China Sea a sea of peace and prosperity.

Under Ma's action plan, a three-way dialogue is proposed to emerge among Taiwan, Japan and China. He said on Pengjia that there now exist three bilateral dialogue platforms between Taiwan and Japan, China and Taiwan, and Japan and China. If three countries were all in agreement, the three bilateral platforms could be amalgamated into one tripartite dialogue mechanism to negotiate a modus vivendi for their joint development of the resources of the small archipelago, a mere 100 miles northeast of Keelung. As an idea, it sounds just as good and fine as the "East China Sea Peace Initiative." But neither of them can work.

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