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September 24, 2017

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Peace plan not sure-fire but the right move to make

Thursday saw the rare occurrence of activists successfully landing on the disputed Tiaoyu Islands since the "Tiaoyu Islands Defense" movement began in the 1970s.

Lying about 100 nautical miles off Taiwan's northeastern tip, the islands are currently controlled by Japan but also claimed by Taiwan and China.

The waters around the Tiaoyutais were once traditional Taiwan fishing grounds. The United States took control of the island group after World War II and handed them over to Japan, along with Okinawa, in 1972.

At first glimpse, the Tiaoyu landing seems to be an encouraging success, especially when seeing the "Blue Sky with a White Sun and a Red Field" Republic of China flag waving alongside mainland China's "Five Stars" flag on the island. It seems to be the symbol that a common goal, such as of the defense of Tiayutais, can unite Taipei and Beijing.

But a closer look reveals that this is indeed only what it seems and not what it is. First, the two Chinese flags. Local media widely covered the flying of the R.O.C. flag aboard the activists' Kai Fung No. 2, as well as on the island itself. But it is far from an image of cross-strait brotherhood. On Kai Fung No. 2, The R.O.C. flag was erected alongside the regional flags of Hong Kong and Macau on top of the cabin while the mainland Chinese flag was set in front of them on the stem. The pro-Beijing symbolism cannot be more clear. The R.O.C. flag could have flown with the PRC flag, but instead it was deemed merely equal to the other regional flags than the mainland Chinese one.

Verbal confirmation of that mentality came from the Taiwanese Tiaoyutais activists outside Japan's de-facto embassy in Taipei who shouted: "Tiaoyutais belong to China, Taiwan is part of China," while some of them sang the PRC national anthem. It is sometimes hard to tell if they were rallying for Taiwan's sovereignty over the Tiaoyutais or for Taiwan's reunification with the mainland.

Beijing might not have planned the recent Tiaoyutai protests but the dispute certainly comes as a welcome distraction from its other sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea. For now at least, the PRC can hand the difficult seat as the "common enemy" to Japan, which is at this moment also facing challenges of its Liancourt Rocks claim from South Korea and its Kuril Islands claim from Russia. With the anniversary of the start of the Japanese invasion of China coming next month, Beijing might enjoy a respite from being seen as the schoolyard bully.

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