To the central content area

News & activities

President Ma attends 2015 East Asian Maritime Peace Forum

On the morning of August 5, President Ma Ying-jeou attended the 2015 East Asian Maritime Peace Forum. He explained the government's efforts and progress in promoting peace in East Asia, and reaffirmed the Republic of China's sovereignty over the Diaoyutai Islets from the perspectives of history, geography, geology, and international law. He called on the nations of the Asia-Pacific Region to replace confrontation with dialogue and resolve disputes through peaceful means, and continue to pursue regional peace and prosperity.

The following is a translation of the president's remarks into English:

Today, I am deeply honored to participate in the 2015 East Asian Maritime Peace Forum to discuss the issue of peace in East Asia with scholars and distinguished guests from many countries.

I want to share my thoughts about peace in the Taiwan Strait, the East China Sea, and the South China Sea, as well as the recent disputes over the Diaoyutai Islets.

The Taiwan Strait has long been viewed as a potential flashpoint. Since I took office in 2008, my administration has worked to maintain the status quo of "no unification, no independence, and no use of force" in the Taiwan Strait under the framework of the ROC Constitution, while promoting the peaceful development of cross-strait ties based on the 1992 Consensus. As a result, the Taiwan Strait has been transformed from a flashpoint for conflict into an avenue of peace.

Over the past seven years, Taiwan and mainland China have signed 21 agreements. During that same period, visitors from mainland China have made over 14 million visits to Taiwan, almost four million of them in the past year alone. There are now 120 flights a day across the strait. So this is the most stable and peaceful the cross-strait situation has been in the past 66 years, yielding a "peace dividend" and garnering praise from the international community. In May of this year, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Susan Thornton remarked that, "The benefits that stable cross-strait ties have brought to both sides of the Taiwan Strait, the United States, and the region have been enormous."

Three years ago, Japanese nationalization of the Diaoyutai Islets escalated tensions in the East China Sea. It was three years ago today—on August 5, 2012—that I proposed the East China Sea Peace Initiative. Based on the belief that although sovereignty over national territory cannot be compromised, natural resources can be shared, I called on the concerned parties to exhibit self-restraint, replace confrontation with dialogue, and resolve disputes through peaceful means.

Eight months later, in April 2013, Taiwan and Japan signed a fisheries agreement. So our fishing boats can now freely operate in a designated zone covering about 70,000 square kilometers, twice the area of Taiwan itself. That gives us an additional 4,530 square kilometers of good fishing grounds free from Japanese interference, so our fishermen are grateful to the government. In the year prior to the signing of our fisheries agreement, a total of 17 disputes arose between the ROC and Japan. Since the agreement was signed, however, we haven't seen any—not even one. More important, the ROC has made no concession on our Diaoyutai Islets sovereignty claims, while great strides have been made in fishing rights. This proved that the East China Sea Initiative is a pragmatic and feasible approach to resolving disputes.

The Taiwan-Japan fisheries agreement has put an end to a 40-year old fishing dispute and received support from the international community. US Secretary of State John Kerry has publicly stated that the ROC-Japan fisheries agreement is a model for promoting regional stability, and that the principles at the heart of the East China Sea Peace Initiative are applicable to all of the waters in Asia.

In addition to the East China Sea, the South China Sea has also gradually become a focus of international politics. In the 30 years since the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) was opened for signature in 1982, disputes in the South China Sea have continued unabated. For example, in May of 2013 a Philippine government vessel fired on the Taiwanese fishing vessel Guang Da Xing No. 28. After the ROC and the Philippines held negotiations, the Philippine side officially apologized, provided compensation, and prosecuted those responsible for homicide. In addition, the two sides reached a consensus to avoid the use of force when enforcing the law at sea, to notify each other before any law enforcement action is taken, and to promptly release any persons detained or arrested, all of which conform to the spirit of UNCLOS. Thanks to these three points of consensus, although a fisheries agreement between the ROC and the Philippines has yet to be signed, the number of disputes has dramatically decreased. We therefore believe that the commitment to peace, as well as pragmatic and viable strategies by all concerned parties in the South China Sea, are integral to reducing tensions in the area.

On May 26 of this year, I proposed the South China Sea Peace Initiative, calling on all parties concerned to exercise self-restraint and refrain from taking any unilateral action that might escalate tensions; respect the principles and spirit of relevant international law, including the Charter of the United Nations and UNCLOS, peacefully settle disputes, and jointly uphold the freedom and safety of navigation and overflight through the South China Sea.

We also hope that all parties concerned: are included in the mechanisms or measures that enhance peace and prosperity in the South China Sea; shelve sovereignty disputes and establish a regional cooperation mechanism for the zonal development of resources in the South China Sea; and set up coordination and cooperation mechanisms for such nontraditional security issues as environmental protection, scientific research, maritime crime fighting, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

On July 7, 2015 our Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement on the South China Sea, asserting that "Whether from the perspectives of history, geography, or international law, the Nansha (Spratly) Islands, Shisha (Paracel) Islands, Chungsha Islands (Macclesfield Bank), and Tungsha (Pratas) Islands, as well as their surrounding waters, are an inherent part of ROC territory and waters." However, the ROC government is willing to shelve sovereignty disputes and consult with the other claimants to jointly develop resources in the region.

From a historical perspective, in 1946—the second year following its victory in the War of Resistance Against Japan—the ROC government, invoking the relevant instruments of international law including the Japanese Instrument of Surrender, reasserted sovereignty over all the islands and reefs of the South China Sea. The government also dispatched naval forces and personnel from the Ministry of the Interior to survey and map each individual island and erect survey markers. Among those islands is Taiping Island, also known as Itu Aba, the largest naturally-occurring island in the Spratlys and the only one with a natural source of fresh water, generating approximately 65 metric tons of fresh water daily for cleaning and cooking. As it can sustain human habitation and economic life, Taiping Island conforms to the criteria regarding islands set out in Article 121 of UNCLOS, and thus enjoys the maritime rights conferred by UNCLOS. For the past six decades the ROC has continuously stationed personnel on Taiping Island, constituting clear evidence of its exercise of sovereignty over the island and its surrounding waters.

The Treaty of Peace between the Republic of China and Japan was signed on April 28, 1952, and today marks the 63rd anniversary of the date it became effective. That treaty, along with the Cairo Declaration of 1943, the Potsdam Proclamation of July 1945, and the Japanese Instrument of Surrender of September 1945 form the legal basis for the restoration of Taiwan to Republic of China jurisdiction. In fact, the Sino-Japanese Peace Treaty also has solutions that can resolve the recent domestic disputes about the ROC's sovereignty over the Diaoyutai Islets.

Now let me brief you on the ROC government's stance from the viewpoints of history, geography, geology, and international law.

First, historically, the Diaoyutai Islets appeared in Chinese historical records as early as 1403 during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) in a maritime monograph entitled Shunfeng xiangsong (順風相送), which shows that these islands were first discovered and used by the Chinese. The Ming Dynasty incorporated the islands into the defense system for China's southeast coast in 1562. In 1683, the Diaoyutai Islets were officially included in the territory of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) along with Taiwan.

Many official books published between 1722 and 1872 mention the Diaoyutai Islets, showing that the island group was effectively under the rule of the Qing court. Some of those books record Qing marine patrol ships anchoring at the Diaoyutais, so they cannot possibly be considered terra nullius (land without owner) as Japan has claimed.

Second, geographically, the Diaoyutais are located about 102 nautical miles north of Keelung City in northern Taiwan, and 230 nautical miles from Naha, the capital city of Japan's Okinawa Prefecture (the Ryukyu Islands). The Diaoyutai Islets also share the same monsoon zone as Taiwan. Thus, the air and water currents are favorable for sailing from northern Taiwan to the Diaoyutai Islands, and unfavorable for sailing from Okinawa Prefecture to the Diaoyutais. So for centuries the Diaoyutai Islets have been a major fishing ground for fishermen from northeastern Taiwan, who can access this area easily. Even during the period of Japanese occupation (1895-1945), Japan designated the Diaoyutais and their surrounding waters as major fishing grounds for Taiwanese fishermen.

Third, in terms of geology, the Diaoyutai Islets are situated on the continental shelf in the East China Sea. Formed by volcanic activity during the Tertiary Period, these rocky outcroppings are undersea extensions of mountain ranges in northern Taiwan, including Datun Mountain and Guanyin Mountain. So geologically, they are part of the island of Taiwan. The water surrounding the Diaoyutais is less than 200 meters deep. In contrast, the waters 10 nautical miles toward the south, which geologists refer to as the Okinawa Trough, are between 1,000 and 2,717 meters deep, forming a natural boundary between Taiwan and the Ryukyu Islands.

For about three or four centuries, the Ming and Qing courts sent imperial envoys to canonize new rulers of their tributary state, the Ryukyu Kingdom. The envoys or their deputies kept detailed travel records showing that after traversing the Okinawa Trough, they then entered Ryukyu Kingdom territory and reached the Miyako Islands. These records also refer to the Diaoyutai Islets as the boundary between China and the outside world.

Fourth, the Japanese government claimed its sovereignty over the Diaoyutai Islets, terra nullius, in accordance with the principle of "discovery and occupation" under international law. In fact, Japan had secretly annexed the Diaoyutai Islets, which had been ruled by the Qing Dynasty for over 200 years at that point. As early as 1683 Taiwan was officially incorporated into Qing territory, and the Diaoyutai Islets, an island group appertaining to Taiwan, were placed under the jurisdiction of the Kavalan Subprefecture.

According to declassified diplomatic documents, Okinawa Governor Nishimura Sutezo was ordered to survey the Diaoyutai Islets and set up national survey markers. Governor Nishimura, however, reported in his survey that erecting survey markers at that time would be inappropriate, because the Diaoyutais had already long been named and used by China, and recorded in official Chinese documents such as the Records of Messages from Chong-shan (中山傳信錄). On September 6, 1885 the Shanghai-based daily Shen Pao (申報) published an editorial warning the Qing court that Japan had attempted to occupy the Diaoyutai Islets. Later, Minister of Foreign Affairs Inoue Kaoru decided to postpone the plan to erect survey markers and replied with a confidential document (No. 38) ordering Mr. Nishimura to "wait for a more appropriate time," and maintain confidentiality. Thereafter, Japan did not make any further surveys.

In July of 1894 the First Sino-Japanese War broke out and the Qing court was defeated. The circumstances were thus finally ripe, and the next year, 1895, the Japanese cabinet secretly annexed the Diaoyutai Islets. However, the Diaoyutai Islets were not terra nullius, and the Japanese never publicly announced their annexation. So the outside world, and the Qing Dynasty, knew nothing about this annexation. As such, under international law, Japan's claim of sovereignty over the Diaoyutai Islets was invalid ab initio (from the onset).

Three months after Japan secretly occupied the Diaoyutai Islets, in April of 1895, the Qing Dynasty signed the Treaty of Shimonoseki with Japan. Article 2(b) of that treaty mandated that China cede to Japan "the island of Formosa, together with all islands appertaining or belonging to the said island of Formosa." The Diaoyutai Islets were thus ceded to Japan along with Formosa. In 1900, Japan placed the islets under the jurisdiction of Okinawa Prefecture, renaming them the Senkaku Islands. The Treaty of Shimonoseki is the only legal basis for Japan's 50-year rule over Taiwan and the Diaoyutais.

After the Pacific War broke out in 1941, the Republic of China declared war on Japan and abolished the Treaty of Shimonoseki. In 1943 the Republic of China, the United States, and the United Kingdom jointly issued the Cairo Declaration, stipulating that "all the territories Japan has stolen from the Chinese, such as Manchuria, Formosa, and the Pescadores (Penghu), shall be restored to the Republic of China." In July 1945 the Potsdam Proclamation of the Allied countries also stipulated that "the terms of the Cairo Declaration shall be carried out." In September of that year Japan signed the Japanese Instrument of Surrender, in which Japan clearly stated its acceptance of the Potsdam Proclamation.

These three historic legal documents have become linked as a single entity and are included in compilations of treaties and other instruments published by the US and Japanese governments; they are thus recognized by those governments as legally binding. Even more important, the Japanese Instrument of Surrender is included in the collection of treaties published by the United Nations, verifying its validity under international law.

Following the ROC's victory in the War of Resistance Against Japan, a civil war broke out between the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) and the Communist Party. Neither the Nationalists nor the Chinese Communists were invited to attend the San Francisco Peace Conference. Article 26 of the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951, however, specially grants authority to the allied nations and Japan to separately enter into treaties regarding territory and other related matters. On April 28, 1952, seven hours before the San Francisco Peace Treaty became effective, the ROC and Japan signed a peace treaty and an accompanying Exchange of Notes, both of which came into force on August 5 that same year, and constituting an extension of the San Francisco Peace Treaty.

In the ROC-Japan Peace Treaty, Article 2 stipulated that Japan renounced sovereignty over Taiwan (Formosa) and Penghu (the Pescadores); Article 4 stated that all treaties (including the Treaty of Shimonoseki) became null and void due to the war; and Article 10 recognized that all the inhabitants of Taiwan and Penghu were accepted as nationals of the Republic of China. The Exchange of Notes (No.1) also confirmed that Taiwan and Penghu were a part of the ROC's territory. Therefore, sovereignty over the Diaoyutai Islets was restored to the Republic of China along with Taiwan on October 25, 1945, a fact verified by the Sino-Japan Peace Treaty of 1952.

In addition, before the United States and Japan signed the Okinawa Reversion Treaty in May 1971, the United States officially notified the Republic of China that it would be restoring administrative authority to Tokyo—not sovereignty—and that this act would not jeopardize any of the ROC's sovereignty claims.

In December 1971 the ROC government put the Diaoyutais under the administrative jurisdiction of Daxi Village in Yilan County's Toucheng Township. In July 1997, then-President Lee Teng-hui added the 6.1636 square kilometers of the Diaoyutais to the total area of Yilan in an effort to assert the ROC's territorial claim. And in 1999 when the ROC announced the boundaries of its territorial waters for the first time, President Lee included the Diaoyutais within those waters.

So although there is already much evidence supporting the Republic of China's sovereignty claim over Taiwan and the Diaoyutai Islets, a few people in the ROC still have a one-sided interpretation of the San Francisco Peace Treaty and neglect the irrefutable historical records, and thus maintain that the status of sovereignty claims over Taiwan and the Diaoyutais is unclear. As president of the Republic of China, I absolutely cannot accept that. I therefore submitted an open letter to the local China Times on August 3 of this year, stating the ROC's position on this issue.

As this year marks the 70th anniversary of the Republic of China's victory in the War of Resistance Against Japan, and the end of World War II, I hope that all parties will look back on history and move forward to cherish our hard-won peace and prosperity in East Asia.

The Republic of China, drawing on its successful peacemaking experiences in the East China Sea, pledges to continue the East China Sea Peace Initiative, and invites countries around the world to support the South China Sea Peace Initiative, calling on countries in the Asia-Pacific region to resolve disputes through peaceful means and work together to pursue sustainable peace and prosperity in the region.

Code Ver.:F201708221923 & F201708221923.cs
Code Ver.:201710241546 & 201710241546.cs