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September 23, 2017

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Islands dialogue needs further discussion: official

President Ma Ying-jeou has proposed a method for solving the Tiaoyutai Islands row through trilateral dialogue between Taiwan, mainland China and Japan, but details for carrying it out will need further discussion, an official of the Presidential Office was cited as saying yesterday.

It remains to be seen how Beijing and Tokyo will respond to Ma's latest proposal, and it is not yet time to talk about technical details, the official was quoted by the United Evening News as saying. The paper did not name the official.

Ma on Friday set foot on the Taiwan-controlled Pengjia Islet, which is near the Tiaoyutais, in a gesture to assert Taipei's sovereignty over the disputed group of islands in the East China Sea.

While there, Ma proposed that all three sides claiming sovereignty over the Tiaoyutais sit down and discuss the possibility of co-developing resources, although he stressed that the islands belong to Taiwan.

Neither Beijing nor Tokyo has made an official response to the proposal.

Some opposition figures have criticized Ma's move, saying he is only paying lip service to defending Taiwan's territorial rights.

But the official said constant assertion of one's claims is crucial in international sovereignty disputes, and therefore the "lip service" is meaningful, according to the newspaper.

Actually, Ma has done more this time, taking some form of action and unveiling a proposal, the official said.

The proposal has a double effect — easing the tensions in the East China Sea and reiterating Taiwan's sovereignty over the Tiaoyutais.

But the president is asking all sides to set aside their disputes and co-develop the resources in the area, the official said.

As Ma said the dialogue could start with the existing channels among the countries, it seems that the work between China and Taiwan is likely to be handled by their respective semi-official bodies currently handling cross-strait ties.

But the official said nothing has been decided yet, and existing channels do not necessarily imply Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation and China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits.

There are some other possibilities, such as the communication platform between the Taiwan Power Company and its Chinese counterparts for their joint oil exploration in the East China Sea, the official said.

The paper also cited Mainland Affairs Council officials as remarking that the government does not have an "action plan" at this time for carrying out the dialogue.

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