WSJ names Ma as president of ROC
President Ma Ying-jeou called for players in the South China Sea region to adopt his “practical, viable solution” for dealing with maritime sovereign disputes in a commentary article run by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).
Ma said that his “South China Sea Peace Initiative” is intended to “shift the focus from settling territorial disputes to jointly developing resources.”
Regional spats in East and Southeast Asia simmering for decades since World War II have escalated in recent years, coinciding with mainland China’s growth to become the world’s second-largest economy and with Beijing’s increasing assertiveness in international affairs. In addition to the constant and sometimes high- tension sovereignty disputes over the Diaoyutai Islands with Japan (Taiwan also claims sovereignty over the islands, which are currently under Japanese administration), China also has sovereignty disagreements with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
Sovereignty and nationalist pride aside, the disputes are also as much about the rights to access to resources such as fossil fuels, fisheries and strategic locations in terms of trade routes and military bases.
Ma balanced Taiwan’s interests with its long-time ally the U.S., its close neighbor Japan and its largest trade partner China in his article, hailing U.S. President Barack Obama’s “pivot to Asia” at the very beginning while touting the improved cross-strait ties under his detente policy as an example of a “stable and pragmatic” peace plan. Ma also pointed out that Japan had signed a fisheries agreement with Taiwan in 2013 in a positive response to his peace initiative.
Ma outlined his initiative as a call for restraint, respect, a shared code of conduct and a cooperation mechanism as well as coordination on issues such as environmental protection, research and maritime crime fighting.
Ma Identified as ROC
In a way illustrating his advocacy for restraint and cooperation over nationalistic impulses, Ma identified regions in which Taiwan has sovereignty disputes in both the names recognized by his government and the ones used by other nations.
It is noteworthy that Ma, who as a college student had actively campaigned in the nationalistic “Protect Diaoyutai Islands Movement” and had said a decade ago that it is worth “going into war” with Japan to protect the sovereignty of the islands, would proactively inform his readers that the islands are called the Senkaku Islands by the Japanese.
Local commentators are also noticing the fact that while Ma used the word “Taiwan” to identify his nation throughout the article, he was identified by the WSJ as “the president of Republic of China (Taiwan)”; using the nation’s proper name that could draw ire from Beijing. Edward Chen ( ), a professor at the Graduate Institute of American Studies at Tamkang University, was quoted by the Central News Agency (CNA) as saying that it is remarkable that Ma’s byline as the R.O.C. president part was not altered or left out.
It could be the first time the newspaper published a commentary by an R.O.C. president under his official capacity, Chen suggested.
Huang Kwei- bo ( ), a professor at National Chengchi University’s Department of Diplomacy, also said that it is “quite different from before” that Ma could make such a comment as R.O.C. president in a global publication given the restrictions Taiwan faces in international affairs. This shows the government’s policies for peace and stability under Ma have gained some “credibility,” Huang added.
In addition to identifying Ma as R.O.C. president, the WSJ also included a photo of Taiping Island featuring the R.O.C. national flag. The photo’s caption said: “Agree to Disagree: The Republic of China has had personnel stationed on Taiping Island, above, since 1956.”