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June 27, 2017

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Japan lawmakers' rally absence won't affect fishery talks: gov't

TAIPEI--Japanese lawmakers' absence from a Republic of China National Day rally was not expected to affect a planned resumption of fishery talks between the two countries, Foreign Ministry spokesman Steve Hsia said Wednesday.

The Sankei Shimbun, a Japanese business daily, said the delegation was in Taiwan to attend National Day celebrations but decided not to go after learning that President Ma Ying-jeou would touch on the Diaoyutai territorial dispute in his National Day speech.

The report speculated that the absence of the group, composed of 39 Japanese lawmakers from across the political spectrum and their aides, might affect the resumption of the long-stalled fishery talks.

Hsia would not comment on the report's claim that the lawmakers absence was related to the content of Ma's speech but said that the ministry respected the lawmakers' decision.

He also dismissed the report's speculation on the future of the fishery talks, saying that the parliamentary group's move should not have any impact on the issue since both countries have tentatively agreed to hold the next round of fishery talks as soon as possible.

Despite their absence from the National Day rally, the Japanese lawmakers did extend their National Day congratulations to Ma during a meeting at the Presidential Office prior to the celebration rally, Hsia said.

Asked whether members of the Japanese group would attend a National Day reception at the Taipei Guest House in the evening, Hsia said they began leaving for home in the afternoon.

Located some 100 nautical miles northeast of Taiwan, the Diaoyutai Islands, known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan and the Diaoyu Islands in China, have been under Japan's control since 1972, but are also claimed by Taiwan and China.

The long-simmering dispute came to a head last month after Japan nationalized the island cluster by buying three islets from their private owner on Sept. 11 in an attempt to reinforce its sovereignty claim.

In his National Day address, President Ma reaffirmed his administration's resolve to defend the Diaoyutai sovereignty and fishing rights as well as to promote regional peace.

"Whether looked at from the perspective of history, geography, or international law, the Diaoyutai Islets have always been part of the territory of the Republic of China, and are among the islands that belong to Taiwan," Ma said.

Moreover, he went on, the waters surrounding the Diaoyutais have for hundreds of years been the traditional fishing grounds of fishermen from Taiwan.

"Our government's patrol vessels will continue to protect our fishermen and defend our territorial waters in this area," the president said.

Stressing that Taiwan has always sought peace and attached great importance to its relations with friendly nations, Ma said that in response to the Diaoyutai row, he proposed the East China Sea Peace Initiative on Aug. 5 to advocate that each party set aside disputes and engage in dialogue.

"Defending sovereignty and fishing rights, resolving the dispute through peaceful means, and promoting joint exploration and development" are the objectives for which we strive. The same principles also apply to the South China Sea," Ma said.

"The R.O.C. intends to play the role of a peacemaker within the international community, and will continue working for peace and stability in East Asia," he added.

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