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Taiwan president softens stance over fishing boat sinking

Date Posted: 2008-06-21

Ma Ying-jeou is appealing for calm in Taiwan, only days after a Japanese Coast Guard vessel collided with a Taiwanese sport fishing boat, sinking it.
Taiwan’s president says “this problem should be resolved peacefully,” toning down his country’s aggressive response to the sinking of the fishing boat Lienhe June 10th. Ma’s government immediately lodged protests with Tokyo, recalling its top official from the Japanese capitol, and sent nine of its Coast Guard vessels into the disputed waters of the Senkaku Islands to protect a civilian boat carrying 40 protesters.
Japan has expressed “regrets” over the incident where the Koshiki, a Coast Guard vessel attempting to turn the Lienhe away from the islands collided with it. All 16 aboard the fishing boat were rescued by the Koshiki. The fishing boat captain, Ho Hung-yi, was questioned for three days by Japanese officials before being handed back to Taipei after being charged with “professional negligence and endangerment.” The Koshiki’s Coast Guard captain has also been charged with “professional negligence causing injury.”
The Senkaku Islands have been claimed by Japan since they were seized in 1895 after colonizing Taiwan. Except for the period when the United States controlled them after World War II until returning them in 1971, Japan has claimed sovereignty over the islets. Both Taiwan and China dispute the Japanese position, laying claim to sovereignty as well.
Ma’s moves also included a decision to stop a frigate carrying Kuomintang officials to the disputed islands of the East China Sea as a show of strength, reasserting sovereignty claims by Taiwan. Taiwan’s Premier, Liu Chao-shiuan, has said he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of making war with Japan over the islands. Ma has told Japan his decision was made because “we have noticed Japan’s self-restraint and goodwill.”
Nobutaka Machimura, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, had called for both countries to “act calmly” and not let the incident be overblown, calling the intrusion by Taiwanese coast guard patrol boats into Japanese waters “regrettable”, He also said the sinking of the fishing ship was “regrettable” as well. Apart from expressing regrets, the chief cabinet secretary has assured Taiwan Japan would pay compensation for the Lianhe Hao sinking.
Repeated negotiations between the two countries—more than a dozen rounds—over the disputed islands have brought little agreement. Ma says “In the past, Japan refused talks on sovereignty claims, and talks on fishing rights came to naught. This has to change.” He says he’ll keep demanding a more formal apology from Tokyo over the ship sinking, saying “regrets” isn’t enough.

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