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"Promoting Peace in East Asia"
Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou¡¯s Statement
ROC President Ma Ying-jeou issues the Statement on East China Sea Airspace Security at an international forum in Taipei in February this year.

President Ma Ying-jeou¡¯s Statement on East China Sea Airspace Security strengthens the Republic of China¡¯s call for the peaceful resolution of regional disputes.

In November 2013, mainland China surprised the international community by announcing that it had established an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea. ADIZs typically extend beyond a nation¡¯s borders to allow time to detect and identify unauthorized aircraft. Civil aircraft flying through a country¡¯s ADIZ with the intention of entering its airspace are required to file flight plans and maintain communication with its air traffic controllers.

Since the United States established the world¡¯s first ADIZ in 1950, more than 20 countries have followed suit. Mainland China¡¯s recent move, however, aroused considerable concern, as its new ADIZ overlaps those previously established by the Republic of China (ROC), Japan and South Korea. Regional apprehensions also increased because mainland China¡¯s ADIZ covers the Diaoyutai Islands, which the ROC firmly maintains are an inherent part of its territory, but are also claimed by Japan and mainland China.

Taiwan has long endeavored to act as a stabilizing force for peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region. In February this year, ROC President Ma Ying-jeou (Ø©çÈÎú) issued the Statement on East China Sea Airspace Security in response to tensions over the opposing ADIZ claims in the East China Sea. Ma delivered the statement at the International Conference on Peace and Security in East Asia, a forum organized by the ROC Ministry of Foreign Affairs and National Chengchi University¡¯s College of International Affairs. The forum was held at the Grand Hyatt Taipei and attended by academics and experts from Taiwan as well as Australia, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States.

In his statement, Ma set out three main principles for ensuring airspace security and freedom of aviation in the area. The principles are aimed at ¡°promoting sustainable peace and long-lasting cooperation in the East China Sea and enhancing regional stability and prosperity,¡± Ma said. The first principle adheres to the spirit of the East China Sea Peace Initiative, which Ma proposed in August 2012 and calls for all parties with interests in the region to refrain from antagonistic conduct, shelve controversies and maintain dialogue, observe international law and settle disputes through peaceful means, among other measures.

Ma¡¯s second principle holds that bilateral talks between countries with overlapping ADIZs in the East China Sea are the best way to resolve disputes and calls for such discussions to begin as soon as possible. When necessary, the parties involved should make provisional arrangements to prevent misjudgments and reduce threats to aviation freedom and safety. The third principle calls for negotiations directed at establishing an East China Sea code of conduct governing airborne and maritime operations and creating a mechanism for regional multilateral dialogue.

The president urged all parties to engage in negotiations on the basis of mutual trust and reciprocity in order to put an end to a fierce regional rivalry that dates back to the Cold War. Ma cited precedents for the peaceful settlement of similar disputes such as the resolution of conflicting territorial claims in the North Sea in the late 1960s and the normalization of relations across the Taiwan Strait, where he noted that one of the world¡¯s major flashpoints has been transformed into a ¡°symbol of peace and prosperity¡± since he took office in 2008.

Among other indicators of improved ties between Taiwan and mainland China, the president mentioned the great increase in the numbers of scheduled cross-strait flights, as well as mainland Chinese tourists and students in Taiwan. In addition, over the past five years, Taiwan and mainland China have concluded 21 agreements covering a wide range of subjects, with the most recent focusing on sharing data and research in meteorology and seismology. The two pacts were signed in late February this year in Taipei.

Just two weeks earlier, Wang Yu-chi (èÝéôÑ­), minister of the ROC Mainland Affairs Council, had held an official meeting with his counterpart Zhang Zhijun (íåò¤ÏÚ), minister of mainland China¡¯s Taiwan Affairs Office, in Nanjing City, mainland China. The encounter was the first between high-ranking government officials from the two sides in more than six decades. Wang and Zhang ¡°addressed each other by their official titles,¡± Ma said, adding that the meeting marked a milestone in the history of cross-strait exchanges and demonstrated the ROC government¡¯s determination to maintain peace in the region.

John Hamre, former US deputy secretary of defense and current president of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, welcomed the airspace security principles Ma presented in his keynote speech at the Taipei forum. The United States seeks to promote stability in the Asia-Pacific region, Hamre said, and believes that territorial disputes should be resolved through diplomacy, a stance that parallels the ROC position outlined in the East China Sea Peace Initiative.

The peace initiative¡¯s emphasis on diplomacy has paved the way for several regional breakthroughs. April 2013, for example, saw Taiwan and Japan sign a landmark fisheries agreement nearly two decades after talks began. As the two countries¡¯ traditional fishing grounds overlap, the pact designates an area of about 23,000 square nautical miles, including waters surrounding the Diaoyutais, in which Taiwanese fishing vessels are able to operate unimpeded. As Ma noted at the Taipei forum, Taiwan and Japan put the issue of sovereignty aside to focus on sharing resources during the recent round of negotiations. The result was the successful conclusion of the fisheries agreement, which put an end to decades of disputes in the area.

At the forum, the president also drew attention to the May 2013 incident in which a Philippine coast guard vessel fired on the Taiwanese fishing boat Guang Da Xing No. 28, killing one of the fishermen. The crew of the Philippine coast guard vessel mistakenly claimed the Guang Da Xing No. 28 had trespassed in the country¡¯s territorial waters. Tensions between the two governments rose in the ensuing weeks, but the incident was resolved peacefully in August that year after the Philippines issued an official apology and the two sides reached a consensus on issues such as refraining from using force in law enforcement and promptly releasing detained fishing vessels and crews in case of arrest. When the Philippines suffered a devastating typhoon in November 2013, Taiwan immediately provided relief funds and began delivering supplies via military aircraft and ships. ¡°These are concrete results of the ROC government¡¯s firm adherence to the East China Sea Peace Initiative and its principle of seeking resolutions to disputes through peaceful negotiations,¡± Ma said.

Positive Response

Moreover, the international community has responded positively to the East China Sea Peace Initiative. Speakers at the Taipei forum, for example, referred to US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel¡¯s testimony before the US House of Representatives in early February this year, in which Russel recognized the initiative for paralleling important elements of US policy such as promoting respect for international law and resolving disputes through dialogue and peaceful means.

Taeho Kim, a professor in the Department of International Studies at Hallym University of Graduate Studies in South Korea, said the initiative arguably provides ¡°the only viable guidelines¡± for resolving sensitive territorial issues and sovereignty disputes. Kim, who also serves as director of the Center for Contemporary China Studies under the Hallym Institute of Advanced International Studies, cited Taiwan¡¯s 2013 fisheries agreement with Japan as an example of the initiative¡¯s successful approach of putting aside sovereignty issues to focus on developing and protecting resources.

A common concern among the forum¡¯s speakers was the rise of nationalistic politics in East Asia. Todd Hall, an associate professor in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, for example, drew a tentative analogy between present conditions in the region and the situation in Europe on the eve of World War I. The academic pointed out that nationalism now plays a major role in tensions in East Asia, as it did in Europe in 1914, and noted that the mainland Chinese government has relied on nationalist sentiment to secure domestic support for its policies. Likewise, Connie Rahakundini, executive director of the Institute of Defense and Security Studies in Indonesia, observed that Beijing had relied on widespread anti-Japanese sentiment in mainland China to build support for its East China Sea ADIZ. Other factors behind the establishment of the zone include a desire for legitimacy among mainland China¡¯s new leadership and the need to respond to the US policy of rebalancing toward Asia, she said. In the meantime, Rahakundini stated that she saw little possibility of mainland China setting up an additional ADIZ in the South China Sea because such a move would likely incur a stronger response from the United States, which is dedicated to upholding freedom of navigation in the area.

At a meeting with forum speakers at the Office of the President in Taipei, Ma pointed out that ADIZs differ from national borders, as ADIZs are established for the purposes of early warning and identification and have yet to be clearly regulated by international law. The president exhorted parties with overlapping ADIZs in the East China Sea to negotiate under the framework of international aviation and maritime regulations while endeavoring to resolve disputes in a pragmatic way. Ma also called for ¡°three sets of bilateral talks¡± between Taiwan, mainland China and Japan, saying that such negotiations would reduce conflicts and encourage the sharing of natural resources in the area.

Commenters at the forum said that while it will be challenging to implement Ma¡¯s proposals, they could help build a foundation for broader regional cooperation. Indeed, Christopher Hughes, a professor of international relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science, observed that given the political dynamics of disputes in the East China Sea, Taiwan¡¯s pluralistic democracy means it has a unique, constructive role to play in managing one of the world¡¯s most contested areas.

Write to Pat Gao at

The above story was provided from Taiwan Review.






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