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Taiwan frigates sent into disputed waters

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Taiwan frigates sent into disputed waters

By Kathrin Hille in Suao and Reuters

Published: June 22 2005 01:31 | Last updated: June 22 2005 01:31



Taiwan yesterday sent two navy frigates armed with anti-ship missiles to disputed waters in the East China Sea after its fishermen complained of harassment by Japanese patrol boats.


The unprecedented move, aimed at silencing domestic criticism that the government is too timid in enforcing the island's fragile sovereignty, risks disturbing relations with Japan, Taiwan's most important unofficial ally in Asia.


The trip to waters close to the archipelago called Diaoyutai in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese and claimed by Japan, China and Taiwan came after a fishing dispute escalated when Taiwanese fishermen rounded up Japanese coast guard vessels in a protest earlier this month.


Calls for the government to better protect its fishermen have grown into a populist campaign by the opposition demanding Taipei enforce its claims over the area which provides access to rich fishing grounds. The government, at first reluctant to provoke its neighbour, agreed to send warships on a one-off “fish ground safeguarding mission”.


Lee Chieh, minister of defence, Wang Jin-pyng, legislative speaker, lawmakers, fishermen and almost 100 reporters boarded the frigates in Suao on the north-east coast of Taiwan. When the ships approached the disputed area, Mr Wang and the lawmakers waved national flags and shouted: “Diaoyutai is the territory of the Republic of China! Protect our sovereignty, long live the Republic of China!”


No Japanese aircraft or patrol boats were seen on the trip.


A fisherman in Suao said: “It's good to see it's finally our turn to scare the Japanese.” Officials from Taiwan and Japan have held 14 rounds of talks on the islands since 1996 but have made little progress. A spokesman for the Japanese Coast Guard said they were not on heightened alert as the Taiwanese were unlikely to enter Japanese territorial waters.


The event appeared as a political show to boost support for Mr Wang, campaigning for next month's election as chairman of the main opposition party Kuomintang, and for KMT legislators running in local polls in December.


The incident is the latest outbreak of controversy over Taiwan's relations with Japan as political parties quarrel over the island's confused national identity along the lines of its relations with China and Japan.


Taiwan was ruled by Japan as a colony from 1895 to 1945. Political parties are divided over whether Japanese colonial rule or the ensuing five decades of one-party rule by the Kuomintang, which came from China, hurt or helped the island more.


The opposition argues that the frigate dispatch can raise Taiwan's negotiating capital in fishing talks with Japan next month. The Japanese government said it had told Taiwan the dispatch would raise tension.






Also reported in:



Navy frigate to defend Taiwan fishermen


Updated: 2005-06-21 11:42



Taiwan sent a navy frigate with anti-ship missiles Tuesday, June 26, to defend fishermen who repeatedly have been chased from disputed East China Sea waters by Japanese patrol boats.



Japanese navy vessels chase away Taiwanese fishing boats in the East China Sea in this undated file AP photo.

A group of 15 Taiwanese "lawmakers" - led by "Legislative Speaker" Wang Jin-pyng and escorted by "Defense Minister" Lee Jye - was aboard the Knox-class frigate when it departed Taiwan's eastern Suao port for the four-hour trip to an island group that both Tokyo and China's Taiwan claim is in their exclusive economic zone.


"This area belongs to us historically, geographically and legally. There is no question about it," Wang told reporters before boarding on Tuesday.


"We must defend our sovereignty and protect our fishing rights," said Wang.


Taiwan fishermen said they have been repeatedly driven away by Japanese patrol boats in what they said were their traditional fishing grounds. They have demanded government protection.


The cluster of tiny, uninhabited islands in the East China Sea provides access to the fishing grounds and possible oil deposits.


"It's good to see it's finally our turn to scare the Japanese. They have always bullied us and make us feel we are thieves at sea," a fisherman in Suao told local cable news network, TVBS.


Two Taiwan Navy Knox-class frigates prepare to embark from Taiwan's eastern coastal port of Suao to islands north of Taiwan to protect Taiwan fishermen June 21,2005. [AP]

China and Japan, the world's second- and third-biggest oil consumers respectively, have been at odds for months over China's exploration for natural gas in the East China Sea near an area Japan claims as its exclusive economic zone.


Taiwan military officials said the U.S.-made frigate equipped with anti-ship missiles would sail to the disputed waters but not go as far as the Diaoyu islands.


About 50 fishing boats from Taiwan sailed to the waters this month in a protest to challenge Tokyo's claim. Japan sent helicopters to monitor the event but avoided a conflict by not sending patrol boats.


Taiwan has said more than 10 of its fishing boats in the area had been expelled or detained by Japan this year and urged Tokyo to resolve the issue quickly through negotiations.


Japan's representative in Taipei, Tadashi Ikeda, warned Taiwan on Monday that plans for the frigate's trip were inappropriate, saying the military should not be brought into a fishing dispute.


The 3,800-ton "Fengyang," equipped with anti-ship missiles, was to sail 60 nautical miles (110 kilometers) to the group of uninhabited islands north of Taiwan known as Sakashima in Japan and Hsientao in Taiwan. The waters surrounding the islands are rich in fish.


Taiwan has long avoided sending naval ships to protect its fishing boats against interference by Japanese patrol boats, fearing conflict with Japan, major trading partner.


The decision to send the frigate follows complaints by fishermen that Taiwanese authorities have not done enough to protect them from Japanese patrol boats in the disputed area.


Japan often fines ship owners and impounds Taiwanese fishing vessels that enter the waters.

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