President Ma Ying-jeou on Saturday visited a small island in the East China Sea to reassert Taiwan’s sovereignty and its role in the contested region, one of the key issues of his administration that ends next month. Ma’s visit today to Pengjia, roughly 56 Kilometres north of Taiwan proper, comes four years after he last visited the island to propose a plan to address territorial disputes between China, Taiwan and Japan over the nearby chain known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyutai in Chinese.
Pengjia, considered the northernmost part of Taiwan’s territory, is not contested and is home to about 40 residents, a weather station and coast guard facilities. It lies some 120 kilometers west of the Japanese-controlled Senkakus, which are hotly disputed by China, in particular.
Taiwan also claims the islands, although its conflict with Japan has been considerably less heated, having reached fishing agreements in 2013. Ma planned today to tour a weather station and unveil a monument to maritime peace at a ceremony and also mark Taiwan’s fishing deal with Japan. It was his second propaganda trip to an island in three weeks.
During his eight-year term, Ma has sought to position Taiwan as a mediator in the region’s numerous territorial disputes while asserting its own claims. In January, he flew to Taiping Island in the South China Sea’s intensely contested Spratly group to demonstrate that Taiping is a self-supporting island entitled to an exclusive economic zone rather than a rock, as the Philippines claims in an international lawsuit.
Washington, a crucial ally, called the trip “extremely unhelpful” to efforts to maintain stability in a region widely considered a potential military flashpoint. While Taiping is the largest naturally occurring island in the Spratlys, it has been dwarfed by man-made features created by China by piling sand atop coral reefs and topping them with lighthouses, airstrips, harbors and other infrastructure.