TAIPEI – A boat carrying Taiwanese activists headed for a disputed chain of Japanese-controlled islands turned back Thursday after coast guard vessels from both sides converged and engaged in a water cannon duel.
The boat carrying seven people, including four Taiwanese activists, abandoned the Senkakus landing in the East China Sea after being blocked by Japan Coast Guard vessels about 25 km away.
“We fired water cannons at each other,” Taiwan Coast Guard spokesman Shih Yi-che said of the confrontation.
The activists said they are trying to bring a statue of Matsu, the Chinese goddess of the sea, to one of the disputed islets so Taiwanese can visit there to pray for the safety of Taiwanese fishermen operating in the area.
Japan’s relations with Taiwan and China have been tense over the past year since the Japanese government outbid the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to effectively nationalize the cluster of uninhabited islands, known as Tiaoyutai in Taiwan and Diaoyu in China.
The voyage by the activists was estimated at 100 nautical miles, which would take eight to nine hours.
It could be a violation of a Taiwanese law that limits pleasure boats from sailing more than 24 nautical miles off the coast without permission.
A Taiwan Foreign Ministry official expressed concern that the voyage could damage plans to hold another round of talks with Japan on fishing by Taiwanese boats in the disputed waters.
To ease the tension and ensure peace in the area, Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou last August unveiled an initiative “to shelve disputes over sovereignty and promote the joint exploration of resources.”
The initiative envisages Japan, Taiwan and China initially conducting bilateral talks and gradually moving on to trilateral negotiations on joint development of resources.