Taiwan appealed for peace talks on Tuesday after China established an air defense zone over the East China Sea, enraging Japan. Analysts think the call for peace will help Taiwan stay on the good side of both China and Japan as they square off against each other.
Since China announced last week an air defense identification zone covering a chain of East China Sea islets that are claimed by both China and Japan, the United States and Japan have flown planes into the zone without notification. Now, Taiwan has announced that its military will conduct normal patrols and also has no plans to comply with China’s demand for notification when aircraft pass through its defense zone.
However, Taipei has become the lone voice asking that the disputants sit down and talk. Taiwan foreign ministry spokeswoman Anna Kao said on Tuesday that her government wants the disputants to discuss regional stability.
The disputed airspace
Kao said her ministry hopes every relevant party can use Taiwan’s year-old East China Sea Peace Initiative proposal to work on safeguarding peace and stability in the region. She also added that Taiwan’s government is paying a high level of attention to developments in the region, and that the foreign ministry will maintain close contact with the United States and Japan.
Taiwan cannot sound off as loudly on the issue as Japan or the United States because of its unique political status. China has long considered the self-ruled island, which sits just 160 kilometers offshore of mainland China, to be a breakaway part of its own territory. This has been official policy since the Chinese civil war in the 1940s; in the past, China has threatened to take the island by force if necessary.
However, the two sides have respected their own exclusive air and sea zones for decades, and in 2008 they started easing hostilities with non-political dialogue that has brought economic gains to Taiwan. Officials on both sides have avoided outward confrontation during the dialogue process.
Taiwan sees its former colonizer, Japan, as a solid informal ally. More recently, Taiwan and Japan have developed economic and cultural ties, and in April the two reached a deal to allow Taiwanese fishermen to fish in disputed waters. The move was seen by some as a slight against Beijing. Nathan Liu, international affairs professor at Ming Chuan University in Taiwan, suggests that a conciliatory approach from Taiwan to China’s air defense zone could deliver more benefits, such as the fishing rights deal with Japan.
“Taiwan in reality has no bargaining chips at all. Taiwan has nothing to lose, and actually Taiwan gains something, because they have this fishing agreement with Japan,” said Liu.
China would oppose any multilateral talks brokered by Taiwan, as it does not consider the island a state empowered to conduct diplomacy. It would also block Japan or the United States, both formal diplomatic allies of Beijing, from engaging Taiwan.