Taipei seeks closer maritime links with Tokyo

Upcoming talks to focus on cooperation in areas such as fisheries and search and rescue

President Tsai Ing-wen speaking during a press conference at the Taipei Guest House on Aug 20, 2016.
President Tsai Ing-wen speaking during a press conference at the Taipei Guest House on Aug 20, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

TAIPEI • Taiwan is to launch talks with Japan on maritime cooperation, including on fisheries and search and rescue, President Tsai Ing-wen said, as part of a push to deepen ties with Asia's second-largest economy.

"In the near future, we will jointly open the Taiwan-Japan maritime affairs cooperation dialogue," Ms Tsai told Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper.

"We don't rule out (that) it could take place this month," she said, according to a transcript of the interview issued by her office yesterday.

Earlier this week, she told The Wall Street Journal in an interview that Taiwan will not cave in to pressure that China has ratcheted up on the island in recent months.

She urged both sides to have a sit-down discussion, but without preconditions.

Since taking office on May 20, she has refused to acknowledge the 1992 Consensus - a tacit understanding reached between the Chinese Communist Party and Taiwan's then ruling Kuomintang leadership that there is one China, although either side is free to interpret what that means.

A spokesman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office - responding to Ms Tsai's comments in the interview with The Wall Street Journal - said that the 1992 Consensus is unshakeable.

Media interviews by Taiwan presidents are often used as a way for the diplomatically isolated, self- ruled island to state its positions to a wider audience.

Ms Tsai, like her predecessors, is constrained from travelling to other countries, most of which have official relations with China and recognise its "one-China" principle.

Ms Tsai leads the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party. She took power after an election win, raising suspicion in Beijing.

She said she looked forward to cooperating with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to strengthen relations and promote regional stability. "From Taiwan's perspective, Prime Minister Abe is someone we are quite familiar with over a long period of time. We also understand that he has goodwill towards Taiwan," she said.

For Japan, building ties with Taiwan could jeopardise its relations with Beijing, which are already strained by arguments over their wartime history and a territorial dispute in the East China Sea.

China regards Taiwan as a wayward province, to be taken back by force if necessary, and is likely to disapprove of it building ties with Japan, especially when China is suspicious of Japan forging closer maritime cooperation in South-east Asia.

China is also suspicious of Japanese moves to help the Philippines and Vietnam develop their maritime security. Both are in disputes with China over rival claims in the South China Sea.

In her interview with Yomiuri, Ms Tsai said she hoped China would display more wisdom in resolving its differences with Taiwan and called for cross-strait relations to be dealt with calmly and rationally.

She reiterated her promise made during her inauguration speech that "we will maintain the status quo and our goodwill". The same message was made during her interview with The Wall Street Journal.

"(We) hope the two sides will jointly resolve the problems...," Ms Tsai told Yomiuri, "but Taiwan and Taiwanese people will not yield in the face of pressure."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2016, with the headline 'Taipei seeks closer maritime links with Tokyo'. Subscribe