Tuesday, June 21, 2005
Taiwan sent two warships Tuesday to protect fishermen who have repeatedly been chased by Japanese patrol boats away from rich fishing grounds near disputed islands in the East China Sea, a decision likely to raise diplomatic tensions.The frigates -- carrying Taiwan's defense minister and 15 lawmakers -- made no contact with the Japanese vessels during their hour-long patrol near the uninhabited islands north of Taiwan, which are known in Japan as Sakashima and in Taiwan as Hsientao. Both Tokyo and Taipei claim the islands fall within their exclusive economic zones. Japan often fines ship owners and impounds Taiwanese fishing vessels that enter the waters, but Taiwan's government has long avoided sending warships to protect its fishermen, fearing conflict with its neighbor and major trading partner. The decision to send the warships came after Taiwanese fishermen complained that the government was not doing enough to protect them, and threatened to fly the rival Chinese flag from their boats to discourage Japanese interference. The lawmakers waved Taiwanese flags and chanted patriotic slogans during the four-hour round trip from Taiwan's eastern Suao port. Japan's representative in Taipei, Tadashi Ikeda, warned Taiwan on Monday that the planned navy patrol was inappropriate, saying the military should not be brought into a fishing dispute. Some fishermen expressed doubts about how effective the government's action would be. "We appreciate (the action)," said Tsai Shui-ho. "But if they only go out on patrol today and don't go out tomorrow, I don't think it will help to solve the problem." But Taiwanese Premier Frank Hsieh said Japan might now be compelled to settle the fishing dispute through negotiations. "There may be overlapping of our exclusive economic zones, but we can discuss it and don't have to chase away the other side's boats," he said. Although Taiwan and Japan do not have diplomatic ties, Taipei tries to maintain close relations with Tokyo, seeing it as an effective military counterweight to China, the island's biggest security threat. China, which claims Taiwan as its territory, urged Japan on Tuesday to respect the rights of the Taiwanese fishermen. China "expresses strong dissatisfaction" at Japan's actions and believes Tokyo should "properly and prudently address the issue," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said. Liu didn't respond when asked whether China would get involved in any potential military clash between Taiwan and Japan. Earlier this month, Taiwan's coast guard tried to dissuade about 60 fishing trawlers from approaching Japanese coast guard vessels in the area to protest the barring of Taiwanese fishermen. The boats were monitored by Japanese aircraft but there was no confrontation.
With two Taiwan naval frigates in rear, Taiwanese fishermen head out to a group of uninhabited islands north of Taiwan known as Sakashima in Japan and Hsientao in Taiwan from Taiwan's eastern coastal port of Suao Tuesday morning, June 21, 2005. A group of 15 Taiwanese lawmakers _ led by Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng and escorted by Defense Minister Lee Jye _ left Suao aboard two Knox-class frigates armed with anti-ship missiles in a tour to defend fishermen who repeatedly have been chased from disputed East China Sea waters by Japanese patrol boats.