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Taiwan calls for trilateral island talks

  |   Sept. 10, 2012 at 6:30 AM
TAIPEI, Taiwan, Sept. 10 (UPI) -- Taiwan's president called for dialogue among Taiwan, Japan and China to resolve sovereignty issues over the disputed Senkaku Islands, also called the Diaoyu or Tiaoyutai Islands.

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou made the call during a brief visit to the Taiwan-controlled Pengjia Islet near the island chain, The China Post reported.

Ma has put his faith in Japan and China accepting his five-point East China Sea Peace Initiative, the Post said. The initiative calls on all parties to refrain from antagonistic actions, observe international law and resolve disputes through peaceful means.

It proposes the countries establish a code of conduct for cooperation in the region specifically for exploring and developing natural resources -- one of the major driving forces for cementing island ownership in all the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Pengjia Islet is 33 nautical miles off Taiwan's northernmost tip and 76 nautical miles west of the Tiaoyutais -- called the Diaoyu Islands by China and Senkaku Islands by Japan.

The Tiaoyutai Islands and their accompanying rocky outcrops are around 100 miles north of Japan's Ishigaki Island and 116 miles northeast of Taiwan. At the end of World War II in 1945 they were under U.S. jurisdiction as part of the captured Japanese island of Okinawa. They have been under Japanese jurisdiction since 1972 when Okinawa was returned to Japan.

The Japanese government, which has been leasing four of the five islands from the Kurihara family for many years, recently sent in a survey team. Landings are by government permission only and rarely granted, meaning the islands remain isolated.

The Post report said Ma's reiteration of his proposal is in response to last week's announcement by the Japanese government that it is close to a deal to buy three islets in the Tiaoyutai group from their private owner to underscore Tokyo's claim.

Ma's first trip to Pengjia as president was seen as a concrete move by the government to reaffirm the country's sovereignty over the disputed island chain, the Post said.

Ma said he wouldn't recognize any purchase of the islands as a legitimate claim to ownership. He also said he has no plan to visit the Tiaoyutais to assert Taiwan's sovereignty claim.

Ma arrived on Pengjia by helicopter, along with several senior government officials and under escort by two Mirage fighter planes.

Three navy frigates also were in the area as Ma inspected a weather observation station, a coast guard post and a century-old lighthouse. Ma also held a video conference with coast guard officers on Taiping, the largest islet in the Spratly Islands, another hotly disputed group.

Ownership of several or all of the Spratly Islands and reefs -- some only visible at low tide -- are disputed by Taiwan, China and Vietnam, as well as Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.

None of the islands has any indigenous population and all disputing countries except Brunei have some form of military presence on various islands.

In March, Vietnam sent several Buddhist monks to perform religious rituals in previously abandoned temples on several of the Spratly islands.

The Spratly dispute has erupted into open military confrontation on occasions, such as the brief 1988 Johnson South Reef skirmish between China and Vietnam in which about 70 Vietnamese military personnel were killed.

Vietnam and China also have competing claims on the nearby Paracel Islands, where China's arrest of Vietnamese fishermen earlier this year set off another war of words concerning ownership.

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Topics: Ma Ying-jeou
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