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  • Diaoyutai voyage should not affect fishery talks: MOFA

    Taipei, Jan. 24 (CNA) The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) urged Japan Thursday to adopt a "rational" attitude toward a Taiwanese protest boat that sailed into waters near the disputed Diaoyutai Islands earlier in the day.

    "The voyage was a voluntary action by private citizens, and should in no way affect Taiwan-Japan fishery talks," said Su Chii-cherng, deputy director-general of the MOFA's Department of East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

    The boat, a fishing vessel chartered from Shenao harbor in New Taipei and carrying seven crewmen and activists, set out for the Diaoyutais early Thursday morning, escorted by Coast Guard Administration (CGA) vessels.

    The activists, members of the Taipei-based Chinese Association for Protecting the Diaoyutais, had intended to enshrine a statute of Matsu, the Chinese goddess of the sea, on the uninhabited island cluster to protect the safety of Taiwanese seafarers and fishermen operating in the region and highlight Republic of China sovereignty over the islands.

    Located in the East China Sea some 100 nautical miles northeast of Taiwan, the Diaoyutais have been under Japan's administrative control since 1972, but are also claimed by Taiwan and China.

    Su said the Japanese authorities had already expressed concern to the MOFA over the voyage.

    "We have in turn reaffirmed our basic stance on the issue," Su said.

    Noting that the Diaoyutais are an inherent part of ROC territory, Su pointed out that the waters surrounding the island chain are Taiwan's traditional fishing grounds.

    "Our sovereignty over the Diaoyutais and their surrounding waters is indisputable," Su stressed.

    Su further said that all of those aboard the ship possessed the proper licenses and had applied to make the voyage in accordance with existing regulations.

    "Our people are allowed to conduct fishing operations in the region," Su went on, adding that the CGA's deployment of four escort ships was mainly to protect the safety of the ROC citizens.

    He urged Japan to adopt a "rational and pacific" attitude toward the voyage.

    Asked whether the incident will affect the holding of planned bilateral fishery talks, Su said the Japanese side has hinted at such a possibility.

    "Both sides have been in talks about the timeline for a second preparatory meeting ahead of a new round of fishery talks," Su said, adding that the government does not want to see the latest protest voyage affect such negotiations.

    "We look forward to seeing the second preparatory meeting taking place either late this month or in mid-February as originally scheduled," Su added.

    Taiwan and Japan have already held 16 rounds of talks on fishing rights in the Diaoyutai waters. A preparatory meeting was held last year to pave the way for a long-stalled 17th round of talks.

    The long-simmering row over the Diaoyutais, known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan, came to a head last September after the Japanese government bought three of the islets from their private owner in an attempt to reinforce its sovereignty claim.

    Chinese patrol ships, utility aircraft and even jet fighters have since been spotted off the disputed island cluster on many occasions.

    Based on the concept of "sovereignty cannot be shared yet resources can be divided," President Ma Ying-jeou unveiled an East China Sea peace initiative last August.

    The initiative calls for all parties to refrain from provocation, shelve their differences, maintain dialogue, observe international law and resolve the dispute by peaceful means.

    He also called for all sides to seek consensus on a code of conduct for the East China Sea and to establish a mechanism for cooperation on exploring and developing resources in the region.

    (By Angela Tsai and Sofia Wu)