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UN envoy urges Japan to recognize East China Sea sovereignty dispute

WASHINGTON -- Japan should recognize the existence of the sovereignty dispute over the Diaoyutai Islands in the East China Sea, a former Republic of China representative to the United States said Wednesday.

Stephen Chen said at a seminar on Taiwan's strategy amid the escalating row over the sovereignty of the islands that no one wants to see the situation deteriorate into an all-out war.

As the first step toward resolving the issue, Chen said, Japan should not continue to deny the existence of the dispute.

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

Since the long-simmering spat came to a head last month when Japan bought three of the islets from their private owners in an attempt to reinforce its sovereignty claim, Chinese maritime surveillance ships have been spotted often in waters near the uninhabited islands.

On Tuesday, seven Chinese warships were seen about 49 km off Yonaguni in Japan's Okinawa Prefecture, roughly 200 km from the Diaoyutais. It marked the first time that Chinese naval vessels had been spotted in the narrow waterway near Yonaguni.

Stressing that the ROC is a peace-loving country, Chen said President Ma Ying-jeou came up with a proposal in August for an East China Sea peace initiative to address the thorny Diaoyutai dispute.

Although it is seen by some as a tall order for Taiwan, China and Japan to hold trilateral talks on the issue at present, they could start with unofficial “track II consultations,” Chen said.

He also said that if Chinese fishing boats need help while operating around the Diaoyutais, Taiwanese naval or coast guard patrol vessels will not turn away but will provide help based on humanitarianism.

Speaking at the same seminar, which was sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington-based think tank, Asian affairs expert Alan Romberg said the presence of Chinese warships in the waters around the Diaoyutais will not change the legal status quo or the conflicting territorial claims.

“Does it change the status quo? I think ... that doesn't affect the nature of claim and any dispute,” Romberg said.

But he cautioned that if China continues to deploy maritime surveillance or military vessels in the area, it could become dangerous over time.

“You could have accident, miscalculation. It seems to me apparently risky,” Romberg said, adding that this is “the kind of thing that Japan and China have to work out.”

Meanhile, Randall Schriver, a former deputy assistant secretary of state, said China's action will draw very predictable reactions from the region.

Noting that the ultimate objective of U.S. and other regional responses is to maintain regional stability, Schriver said he hopes China will understand that its activities will bring about a cycle of action and reaction.

In the long run, Schriver went on, Beijing will get outcomes that do not necessarily work for its benefits.

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