Jun 12

Taiwan and Diaoyutai

Written by Buxi on Thursday, June 12th, 2008 at 7:05 am
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Two different Diaoyutai’s are front-page news today.

First, Diaoyutai islands: a Taiwanese fishing ship collided with a Japanese patrol ship off of the disputed Diaoyutai islands. One man was slightly injured as the boat sank; the passengers have been repatriated, but the crew remains held under Japanese custody.

The sovereignty of Diaoyutai is disputed by all sides on the basis of conflicting history; it’s either part of mainland China, Japan, Okinawa, or Taiwan depending on who is doing the talking. Wikipedia has the details in English. It certainly remains a potential flashpoint. Chinese nationalists (from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and mainland) have at different times made attempts to plant Chinese flags onto the island. Japanese nationalists have done the same.

These pictures come from an attempt in 1996, during which a Chinese activist (David Chan) tragically drowned.

Official reactions to this sinking are interesting.  Over the past month, Beijing and Japan have tried to put aside nationalist arguments and focus on boosting bilateral relations; this will restrain mainland China’s response. However, Beijing still issued a statement expressing its dissatisfaction over the incident. Taiwan is taking a harder line, and demanding both compensation and an apology from Japan.

Now, the second Diaoyutai.

That would be the Diaoyutai Guest House in Beijing.  History is being made here, as this is where cross-strait negotiations are formally taking place after a 16 year break.  Recent meetings involving Lian Zhan, James Song, and Wu Boxiong have all been unofficial meetings between political parties. Taiwanese law explicitly forbid any unofficial negotiations between private citizens and the mainland “rebels”; therefore, no signed documents have resulted over the numerous meetings over the previous 3-4 years. (Ironically, the two officials leading the meetings, Chen Yunlin and Jiang Bingkun have already met extensively in recent years through the Communist/Nationalist party dialog… but this is a new role for them.)

The meetings this week are semi-official, and being conducted by Taiwan’s SEF and mainland China’s ARATS; both sides have the legal right to sign agreements, and that’s precisely what they will do. First, direct (weekend charter) flights will be inaugurated by early July. Flights from Shanghai or Guangzhou to Taipei will now take less than an hour. Second, the gates to visiting Taiwan will now be flung wider open to mainland Chinese tourists. I personally have wanted to visit Taiwan for years, but it’s still a painful process for Chinese nationals… I hope this will change in the near future.

Even as we celebrate the progress, there’s still a long way to go. A series of public opinion polls are published by Roland at ESWN. I think these polls are legitimate, and accurately reflect Taiwanese public opinion. Basically, if forced to choose right now, a large majority of Taiwanese would choose independence over reunification.

Q4. If you can choose, would you prefer Taiwan to become an independent country, or unify with mainland China?
65%: Independent country
19%: Unified with mainland China
16%: No opinion

There is reason to be optimistic, however. Half of Taiwanese continue to be comfortable thinking of themselves as being “Chinese and Taiwanese”; in this poll, Chinese is defined as zhongguo ren (中国人).

Another poll on the same page asks Taiwanese a slightly different question: are you a member of the zhonghua minzu, Chinese race (中华民族)? The response here is overwhelmingly positive; 77% responded that they identify as part of zhonghua minzu. This is an important statement, as it is becoming the fundamental foundation for improving cross-strait relations on the short term. Both Hu Jintao and Ma Yingjiu have delayed the challenging question of “nations” and “countries” for now, and both are instead focusing on both sides of the strait as compatriots, fellow members of the zhonghua minzu.

I believe that’s all we really need, for now. The path towards peaceful reunification is long, very likely at least 30-50 years in the future. This fundamental issues of identity is very relevant; as long as we recognized a shared heritage, and with growing cross-strait integration, I’m optimistic about the likelihood of eventual reunification.

Chen Shuibian and the Taiwanese independence movement are well aware of the importance of this issue, which is precisely why it has been pushing an agenda that strengthened a de-Sinified Taiwanese identity for the past 8 years. And the survey results do show that he has made progress in his goals. Now, it’s time for those who support a shared zhonghua minzu identity to have their chance at driving the agenda.

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11 Responses to “Taiwan and Diaoyutai”

  1. CarolC Says:

    hi,I enjoy reading your blog. Here I’d like to point out 2 things:
    1. the Taiwanese ship you mentioned above was hit by the Japanese patrol ship.
    2. there should not be any dispution about the ownership of the Diaoyutai Islands. It’s only about 90 nautical miles from Yilan County (North Taiwan) to the islands. it’s about 180 nautical miles from mainland China and 225 from Okinawa to the island.
    In my opinion, Mr. Chen Yulin and Mr. Jiang Binkun could discuss the Diaoyutai issue. just don’t forget that which one is closer to the islands.

  2. yo Says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong but wasn’t the post on ESWN illustrating the point that asking similar but slightly modified survey questions changes the results?

    For example:
    If you can choose, would your prefer Taiwan to become an independent country, or unify with mainland China, or become a state in the United States of America?
    58%: Independent country
    17%: Unified with mainland China
    8%: Become a state in the United States of Amreica
    17%: No opinion

    And in question 2, instead of America(so random), they put status quo, and the results changed again.

    The same goes with the Chinese/Taiwanese labels.

  3. Buxi Says:


    You (or ESWN) have a point on that point. It is a strong reminder that surveys really have to be read in full, anyone that dilutes it down to “xx% of Taiwanese want agenda A” is likely missing part of the point. (For example, the zhongguoren and zhonghuam minzu distinction is also a very meaningful one.)

    But I’m more interested in what the surveys can tell us. It tells us that many Taiwanese see themselves as Chinese, but popular support for reunification is still very low.

  4. Buxi Says:


    Thanks for your comment!

    I doubt Chen Yunlin and Jiang Bingkun will talk about Diaoyutai, at least publicly… the SEF/ARATS will probably stay away from these very sensitive political issues.

    But I think the KMT/CPC dialogue platform would be a good place for both party leaderships to exchange notes on how to respond to these issues. In Beijing’s statement after the Diaoyutai collision, it referred to the boat as being from 中国台湾. The immediate reaction from some Chinese readers was… is Taipei going to be unhappy about this? Is this going to be another issue for the pan-Greens in Taiwan to complain about? So, some coordination on this point would be good.

    I personally think that Beijing and Taipei should cooperate their diplomatic power and reassert our historical claims. And at the very least, even before this dispute is finally settled, the PRC/ROC should make it very clear that Japanese forces operating in the area must respect the basic rights of Chinese in the area. The Taiwanese still held in custody should be free immediately, and the collision investigated.

  5. WillF Says:


    I’m not Chinese or Taiwanese, and I have no real position on the correct outcome of the Taiwan sovereignty issue other than that it should be 100% peaceful and fair to all involved. However, I would point out that by the same logic you use to determine the sovereignty of the Diaoyutai, you ought to agree that the Kinmen and Matsu islands rightfully belong to the PRC, correct?

  6. Nimrod Says:

    Or that Taiwan itself belongs to the PRC? lol…

  7. AC Says:



    (BTW, this is a good YouTube channel to watch if you don’t have a satellite dish for HongKong/Taiwan TV programs.)

  8. Charles Liu Says:

    DYT’s messy history goes way back to Qing Dynasty and Japan’s dispute over the fate of Ryukyu Kingdom.

    However, Ryukyu Kindom, a vassal of Qing, deliniated itself from China using DYT, eg “this island and beyond is China”.

    Also geologically DYT is east of the Ryukyu trench and is part of the Chinese continental shelf, not part of the Japanese archipelago.

  9. Buxi Says:

    Here are some early details on tour groups to Taiwan:

    – a total of 600 will be going in the first group on July 4th,

    – Guangdong travel agencies are offering seven-day packages for 8000 RMB ($1230 USD),

    – there will be direct flights from Guangzhou to Taibei and Gaoxiong 4 days a week: Monday, Friday, Saturday, and Sudnay.

    – hundreds in other cities (Shanghai, Tianjin, Beijing) are reserving spots for tours as soon as possible. Costs for 14 day tour is quoted at 12000 RMB, but apparently details on travel documents + actual airfare quotes are not yet available, so this is all just preliminary stuff.

    – update: looks like regularly weekend flights don’t begin until July 18th, so that’s when the first regular tour groups will be heading out. Each tour group will be 10-40 people, 3000 tourists per day, maximum stay of 10 days. They’ll reconsider that 3000 tourist per day maximum cap in a year.

    – update2: I misunderstood above; these direct flights will be like previous charter flights, meaning they have to circle over Hong Kong airspace. So, a Shanghai -> Taipei flight will still take 3-4 hours. They promise to discuss TRUE direct flights at their next meeting.

    As a bit of a surprise announcement, both governments will be setting up offices to ease travel documents (instead of routing all applications through Hong Kong, as is standard practice).

  10. Buxi Says:

    The Taiwanese fishing boat issue is escalating. The captain has been freed, and continues to insist the Japanese naval ship intentionally rammed and sank their boat.

    Taiwanese legislators are talking about all sorts of harsh action in response, ranging from boycott to war… the Taiwanese “ambassador” to Japan will be recalled without an apology.


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