Taiwan on Tuesday renewed its claim over a disputed East China Sea island chain at the centre of a territorial dispute between Tokyo and Beijing, as activists scrapped plans to sail to the area.
“President Ma Ying-jeou has made it clear that the government of the Republic of China (Taiwan’s official title) will by no means make concession regarding the sovereignty of Diaoyutai,” a presidential spokesman said, referring to the islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China
“Not even a single inch,” he told the state Central News Agency.
The spokesman did not say what measures the government will take, as Japanese Defence minister Satoshi Morimoto warned Tokyo could send troops to the island chain following China dispatching ships to the area.
The remarks came after a group of 14 pro-China activists from Hong Kong and Macau set sail for the disputed islands on a Chinese-flagged fishing boat.
The activists, who belong to a group called the Action Committee for Defending the Diaoyu Islands, had said they would be joined at sea by two other vessels, one each from Taiwan and Xiamen city in southern China.
They said the move was aimed to counter a plan by a group of Japanese lawmakers to visit the disputed islands.
The meet-up from Taiwan was aborted after coast guard authorities announced that four Taiwanese activists “agreed… to cancel their sail since they had failed to hire a ship”.
“The ship had not applied for sail to Taiwan’s water in advance. What’s worse, the activists even displayed the five-star flag of the mainland,” Coast Guard Administration official Wang Chung-yi told reporters.
Taiwan’s coast guard also denied the Hong Kong ship’s request for entry into the island’s port. After the denial, the Hong Kong ship sailed north along the Taiwan Strait, and was ordered to leave Taiwan’s waters.
“The development suggests that the Hong Kong activists either have to scrap their plan and return or continue their sail to Japan’s waters where Japan is deploying a fleet of 20 vessels,” another coast guard official said on condition of anonymity.
The pro-China group has made repeated attempts to reach the islands, but apart from one successful foray in 1996 they have been blocked by Japanese patrol vessels.
The uninhabited outcrops were the scene of a spat in late 2010 when Japan arrested a Chinese trawlerman who had rammed two of its coast guard vessels.
Tensions spiked in April after controversial Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara called for Tokyo to buy the islands from their Japanese owner.