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Remarks by President Ma at the 2014 East China Sea Peace Forum

Minister of Foreign Affairs David Lin (林永樂);

Chairman of the Prospect Foundation Chao Chun-shan (趙春山);

Friends from the academic and diplomatic circles;

Distinguished guests;

Friends from the media:

Good morning!

It is a great pleasure to attend the 2014 East China Sea Peace Forum today. In September two years ago, after Japan announced the nationalization of the disputed Diaoyutai Islands, anti-Japanese demonstrations erupted in 20 cities throughout mainland China, and tensions escalated in the East China Sea. As one of the claimants, the Republic of China has consistently maintained the stance that the Diaoyutai Islands are an inherent part of the territory of the ROC and are appurtenant to Taiwan. In response to these developments, and in recognition of the 60th anniversary of the August 5, 1952 signing of the Treaty of Peace between the Republic of China and Japan, I proposed the East China Sea Peace Initiative on August 5, 2012. We believe that sovereignty cannot be compromised, but resources can be shared. Thus, we called upon all parties concerned to exercise self-restraint, replace confrontation with dialogue, and resolve disputes through peaceful means.

The peace initiative has now been in place for two years and over this period the ROC has made a variety of diplomatic efforts, successfully resolving major disputes with Japan and the Philippines, and helping to create new conditions for peace in the East China Sea and the South China Sea, respectively. The progress on these fronts has been enthusiastically welcomed by many other nations that embrace the same philosophies.

I. The ROC's practical implementation of the East China Sea Peace Initiative

Now I would like to brief our distinguished guests on developments prior to and following the proposal of the East China Sea Peace Initiative.

1. Cross-strait peace is the cornerstone of East Asian stability and prosperity

After the end of the Korean War in 1953, the Korean Peninsula and the Taiwan Strait became major flashpoints in Northeast Asia, and there was great possibility of war. In 1987, Taiwan began allowing its residents to visit their relatives in mainland China, thus opening the door for rapprochement across the Taiwan Strait. In 1992, the two sides reached a consensus on "one China, respective interpretations." Unfortunately, growing disagreements in the following years weakened mutual trust. Mainland China even fired dummy missiles into the waters off Keelung and Kaohsiung, prompting the United States to respond by dispatching two aircraft carrier groups to the waters near Taiwan. With tensions rising, institutionalized cross-strait negotiations were suspended for 10 years.

After I took office in 2008, institutionalized negotiations between the two sides were quickly resumed on the basis of the "1992 Consensus." As of August 2012 when the East China Sea Peace Initiative was unveiled, the two sides had already signed 16 agreements. Relations between the two sides have strengthened to the extent that this has become the most stable and peaceful period in the Taiwan Strait since the two sides came under separate rule over 60 years ago. The Taiwan Strait has been transformed from a potential killing field into an avenue of peace and prosperity. For instance, over the past six years, the number of direct commercial flights between airports on either side of the Taiwan Strait has risen from zero to the current 118 flights daily, covering 54 cities in mainland China and 10 cities in Taiwan. Furthermore, the number of visits made by mainland Chinese to Taiwan has risen from 290,000 six years ago to 2.85 million last year, marking nearly tenfold growth. Also, the number of mainland Chinese students coming to Taiwan to study has increased 30 times from 823 six years ago to 25,000 now. The annual trade volume between the two sides last year reached US$165 billion. These numbers were unimaginable six years ago.

The improvement in relations between the two sides has significantly reduced tensions in the Taiwan Strait and contributed to regional peace and stability, which is in line with the interests of the international community. Therefore, these developments have met with a positive response from the United States, Japan, the ASEAN countries, New Zealand, Australia, and the European Union, giving Taiwan even greater confidence in its ability to resolve disputes through peaceful means.

2. The Taiwan-Japan fisheries agreement has effectively resolved disputes

Eight months after the East China Sea Peace Initiative was proposed, Taiwan and Japan signed a fisheries agreement on April 10 of last year. Taiwan's fishing boats can now operate in a designated zone that is twice the size of Taiwan, giving us an additional 4,530 square kilometers of good fishing grounds. This has also resolved 40 years of fishery disputes between our two countries.

One year before the Taiwan-Japan fisheries agreement was signed, 17 disputes occurred between our countries in this zone, and our patrol ships confronted each other 15 times. However, since the agreement was inked, the number of disputes has dropped to one, and there have been no confrontations between our patrol ships. Meanwhile, fishermen from both countries have seen large increases in their catches. The Diaoyutai Islands sovereignty issue has been set aside without affecting the sovereignty claims by either side. This agreement has put an end to 40 years of disputes and enabled Taiwan and Japan to share resources. This is to say that there has been no concession on sovereignty rights, while great strides have been made in fishing rights.

3. The ROC took a firm and peaceful approach to resolving the Guang Da Xing No. 28 fishing boat incident

On May 9 of last year, coast guard personnel on a Philippine government vessel used automatic weapons to fire upon the Guang Da Xing No. 28, an ROC fishing boat operating in the overlapping exclusive economic zones of the two countries. A Taiwanese fisherman was killed and the fishing boat was severely damaged. The ROC government lodged a strong protest condemning the Filipino action. After three months of intense investigation and negotiation, the Philippine government finally made an official apology and paid compensation to the victim's family. The Philippine Department of Justice also indicted eight coast guard personnel on charges of homicide.

More importantly, Taiwan and the Philippines have held several rounds of fisheries talks and begun negotiating a cooperation agreement on fishery law enforcement. The two sides reached three points of consensus—that both would refrain from using violence in law enforcement, notify each other prior to taking law enforcement actions, and promptly release persons detained or arrested. In the past 10 years, there have been 25 cases of law enforcement involving the use of force of arms in these waters, and fishermen in some cases have been fatally shot. Taiwanese fishermen have suffered, and the Philippines have had no shortage of complaints. Since talks began on a Taiwan-Philippine fishery law enforcement agreement, however, there has only been one incident in which law enforcement actions were taken. Bluefin tuna harvests have also increased significantly compared with last year.

Taiwan's fisheries agreement with Japan and its negotiations on fishery law enforcement with the Philippines have yielded positive results. This shows that the ROC has upheld the spirit of the East China Sea Peace Initiative, firmly insisting that disputes be resolved peacefully and creating significant peace benefits. The initiative is indeed a feasible approach. Such success was not a coincidence, for there are no winners in war and no losers in peace. The pursuit of peace is the common aspiration of humanity.

II. International recognition of the East China Sea Peace Initiative

The ideas put forward in the East China Sea Peace Initiative, as well as the concrete results it has produced, have received international recognition and admiration. US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel affirmed the initiative at congressional hearings in April this year, stating that its key principles, such as respect for international law and peaceful settlement of disputes, are at the heart of US strategy. In addition, he praised Taiwan's peaceful and pragmatic approach to maritime disputes with Japan and the Philippines as models of how to resolve disputes through diplomatic channels.

This approach was also lauded at the Asia Security Summit's Shangri-la Dialogue this year by US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Australian Minister for Defence David Johnston, who praised Taiwan's settling of maritime disputes with Japan and the Philippines through peaceful means.

The East China Sea Peace Initiative has also received close scrutiny and wide praise in both domestic and foreign media. For example, in an editorial titled "Calm the waters of Southeast Asia" published on May 14 of this year, the Financial Times, in reference to the recent territorial dispute between mainland China and Vietnam over oil exploration in the South China Sea, called on the parties concerned to settle the dispute through consultations. The editorial also commended the Taiwan-Japan fisheries agreement as "a proved model" for resolving controversies and sharing resources.

III. East Asia's security and regional economic integration

Countries that border the East China Sea not only play an important role in geopolitical strategies worldwide, but also have become the most important engine of growth in the world's economy.

In early May of this year, mainland China established an oil drilling platform in the South China Sea, which led to tensions between mainland China and Vietnam. Subsequently, some Vietnamese protestors resorted to violence, which impacted a number of foreign companies and Taiwanese firms operating in Vietnam that had nothing to do with the dispute. These protests led to considerable losses among Taiwan firms operating in Vietnam.

Even though mainland China withdrew its drilling platform in July, the incident showed how easily a major incident can be triggered. All parties involved must consider how to replace confrontation with dialogue, shelve controversies through negotiation, and solve disputes with peaceful means, if we want to maintain peace, stability and prosperity in the region. In other words, we should think about how to apply the spirit of the East China Sea Peace Initiative to the South China Sea and other regions.

I would like to reiterate that while there are increasingly close economic relations among countries in the Asia-Pacific, on the security front more differences are cropping up. Under these circumstances, we must think about and build a systematic mechanism for effective dialogue, support peaceful means for eliminating disputes as soon as they arise, and undertake effective cooperation to promote economic prosperity.

Experts and scholars from around the world have been invited to this year's East China Sea Peace Forum to discuss nontraditional security cooperation mechanisms, conflict prevention mechanisms, economic integration, and expansion of the influence of the East China Sea Peace Initiative, in the hope of laying the groundwork for the establishment of an institutionalized multilateral dialogue platform to advance peace and cooperation in East Asia.

VI. Conclusion

Ladies and gentlemen, Taiwan is situated at the geographic heart of East Asia, as well as at the confluence of the East China Sea and South China Sea, naturally enabling it to play a role in the region. Over the past six years, we have worked to promote cross-strait rapprochement in the pursuit of peace and prosperity, and have changed the strategic outlook in the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan's relations with mainland China and with the international community six years ago centered on controversies and resulted in a vicious cycle. Now, however, this has been transformed into a virtuous cycle centered on dialogue. This constitutes a win-win situation for the two sides of the Taiwan Strait and a positive climate for everyone in the international community,

Meanwhile, through peaceful means, we have resolved fishery disputes with Japan and the Philippines, our neighbors to the north and south, respectively. When Japan was hit by an earthquake and tsunami, the donations we offered exceeded the sum of those made by 93 other countries. When the Philippines and Palau were hit by a typhoon, we immediately dispatched military aircraft and vessels to deliver relief materials. International society has thus gradually come to realize that the Republic of China is a peace-loving country that is ready to provide humanitarian aid. That is why so many countries supported our participation in the World Health Assembly (WHA) in 2009 after a hiatus of 38 years, and in the annual meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) after 42 years. We have only 22 diplomatic allies, but 140 countries or territories now grant visa-free or landing visa treatment to our citizens, up from 54 before I assumed office. I consider these developments the dividends of peace.

Ladies and gentlemen, the ROC will continue to strengthen cooperative ties with countries around the world. We will work hand-in-hand with all concerned parties, in line with the principles of the East China Sea Peace Initiative. By establishing a mechanism for cooperation on nontraditional security issues, by establishing a regional conflict prevention mechanism, and by promoting regional economic integration, we intend to pursue systematic development of regional rapprochement and cooperation. We want to reduce the likelihood of misjudgments and use of military force. We want goodwill to beget goodwill, in an unending cycle. We want the East China Sea and the South China Sea to become seas of "peace and cooperation." We want the achievement of peace in the East China Sea to become a framework of reference for other similarly situated countries or regions to consider, so that all parties can work together for sustainable peace and development.

Lastly, I would like to wish the forum every success, and good health and happiness for all. Thank you.

【Source: Office of the President】