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Japanese should reflect upon role in Diaoyutai Islands dispute: president

TAIPEI -- President Ma Ying-jeou said yesterday that it was Japan that sparked the recent massive protest by Taiwanese fishing boats in waters near the disputed Diayoutai Islands in the East China Sea and that Japan should reflect deeply upon its actions.

Ma said that as a peace-loving nation, the Republic of China has never sought to provoke conflict, but he noted that the Taiwanese fishermen were angry at the Japanese government's move to nationalize the island chain earlier this month.

“It is the Japanese government that started all this,” Ma said.

He made clear the government's attitude toward the dispute, which is to “defend sovereignty and fishing rights, handle disputes peacefully and co-develop resources.”

Under this premise, Ma said, he “hopes to see the Japanese reflect deeply upon the issue.”

Ma further said that his proposal for an East China Sea Peace Initiative put forth last month is aimed at putting aside disputes and jointly developing resources even while all sides recognize the existence of the controversy.

The president said that even the Japanese government has said the nationalization move was a miscalculation of the situation.

“The best remedy is (for Japan) to talk with Taiwan on how not to interfere with Taiwanese fishermen in waters near the Diaoyutai Islands,” he added.

He noted that the waters surrounding the Diaoyutais are traditional fishing grounds of Taiwanese fishermen, but since disputes began erupting in the 1970s, Taiwanese fishing ships have been harassed, driven away or even impounded or fined by the Japanese authorities. “We have been wronged and humiliated” over the past four decades, he went on.

The United States handed Japan the Diaoyutai Islands, called the Senkaku Islands in Japan, along with the Ryuku Islands, in 1972.

He noted that the protest staged by the 75 Taiwanese fishing boats on Tuesday was the biggest of its kind and received the most international media coverage, which will let the world know that the area is a traditional fishing ground of Taiwan and that the rights of its fishermen should not be interfered with.

Speaking at a reception at the Presidential Office with some of the protesters, he also said that during the protest, even during an intense standoff with Japanese Coast Guard vessels, the R.O.C. Coast Guard Administration vessels that escorted the fishing boats remained passive and only traded water cannon blasts after being blasted first.

“We exercised great self-restraint, knowing that our prime target is not to fight the Japanese,” Ma said.

Chen Chun-sheng, president of the Suao Fishermen's Association, said that fishery rights are an aspect of a country's sovereignty.

The waters near the Diaoyutais, he said, are crucial to the livelihoods of tens of thousands of families, and he applauded Ma's instructions that the Coast Guard should provide escort services to the fishing boats.

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