Frank Hsieh, Democratic Progressive Party candidate for president and his Kuomintang rival Ma Ying-jeou have concluded their TV policy debates, but neither raised the question of Tiaoyutai.Perhaps, Ma did not want to touch on the question for fear that he might be viewed as strongly anti-Japanese as the Japanese media have already presumed him to be.Hsieh, who has studied at Kyoto University and is known for his pro-Japanese stand, purposely shunned the problem concerning the islets which the Japanese call Senkakus and claim sovereignty over them.

Taiwan rightfully has sovereignty over the uninhabited Tiaoyutai archipelago, a mere 75 nautical miles northeast of Keelung.Tiaoyutai, which literally means Fishing Platform, is spelled Diaoyudai, the name the People’s Republic of China, which also claims sovereignty, uses to call it.

Tiaoyutai is the largest of the islets, which were officially included in China’s territory as early as the Ming Dynasty .When Taiwan was ceded to Japan in 1895, the islets came totally under Japanese jurisdiction.One thing must be made very clear.The Kingdom of the Ryukyus, which was annexed by Japan as a prefecture of Okinawa in 1872, was a vassal state to China and Japan.Because of its proximity, the kingdom should have sovereignty over the tiny archipelago, but the concept of sovereignty was still unknown at that time.The Republic of China has never acknowledged the annexation of Okinawa.

For the following half century, the Tiaoyutais belonged to Japan.But the Japanese court in Tokyo gave the fishing rights to the fishermen of the then prefecture of Taihoku , which included the present-day county of Yilan when they had dispute with their Okinawan opposite numbers.When Taiwan was restored to the Republic of China in 1945, the government in Nankingconsidered the Tiaoyutais a part of the territory the Japanese surrendered.But the United States invaded Okinawa and occupied it shortly before the Pacific War.The Senkakus, part of the Ryukyu Islands, had been under American jurisdiction until they were returned to Japanese sovereignty in the 1960s.The Japanese honestly believe the Senkakus were included in the deal.Taiwan has continued to assert sovereignty, issuing an official statement when Amami Ohshima, one of the Ryukyu Islands, was returned to Japanese sovereignty in 1953.Taiwan acquiesced to the American decision to return Amami Ohshima but insisted that there was no provision in the San Francisco Peace Treaty which could be construed as authorizing the United States to transfer the islands to Japan or any other power at any time.

The dispute over the fishing rights off waters of the Tiaoyutais remains but it could be easily settled if there were no huge undersea oil reserves.All three claimants want to tap them, now that oil prices have soared up to US$110 a barrel.The Japanese have already erected an unmanned lighthouse on the largest of the islets, but Taiwan has not even lodged an official protest, though the Tiaoyutais have been long made part of Yilan County.The National Coastguard Administration made clear last year Suao fishing boats must have its permission to leave port for the Tiaoyutais with protesters aboard, tacitly acknowledging the islets are not part of Taiwan’s national territory.The Foreign Ministry has made its mission in Okinawa subordinate to its representative office in Tokyo, unofficially signaling the Republic of China is relinquishing China’s historical suzerainty over the Ryukyus.Former President Lee Teng-hui has told the Japanese press he believes the Tiaoyutais belong to Japan.

Taiwan should do something to achieve a modus vivendi with Japan to protect its national interests in the Tiaoyutais.