Taiwan’s president on Friday warned Japan against making any attempts to nationalise islands that are part of a disputed chain in the East China Sea.
President Ma Ying-jeou issued the warning during a high-profile visit to Pengchia Islet, which lies off northern Taiwan, only about 140 kilometres (85 miles) west of the disputed chain.
The islands – known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyutai (or Diaoyu) in Taiwan and China – are controlled by Tokyo but also claimed by Taipei and Beijing and have been a key part of simmering regional tensions over rival territorial claims.
Analysts say Ma chose the islet to make his well-measured gesture to raise international attention without further aggravating tensions.
Disputes have flared over island chains in both the East China and South China seas, rich fishing grounds with potentially lucrative oil and gas reserves.
But diplomatically isolated Taiwan – which China claims as part of its own territory, 63 years after the two sides split amid civil war – has been largely left out of the spotlight.
During his visit, Ma called on the islands’ three claimants to put aside their disputes and hold bilateral or trilateral talks to jointly develop the rich resources there.
The president also asked commanders at two Taiwan-controlled islets in South China Sea’s Pratas and Spratly island chains to strengthen guards.
Those chains are claimed by Taiwan, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia.
While Taiwanese media were generally sceptical about the visit’s impact, some say Ma’s trip may manage to rebut Beijing’s appeal for a united front with Taiwan over the disputes.
Many Taiwanese fear Beijing may be using its warming economic ties with Taiwan in recent years to further its goal of unifying with the self-ruled democratic island.
In Beijing, a Foreign Ministry spokesman reacted to Ma’s visit by reiterating China’s longstanding stance on the dispute, saying the islands had belonged to China “since ancient times” and that both sides of the Taiwan Strait had responsibility in safeguarding Chinese territories.
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