The Debate

Taiwan Calls for East China Sea Code of Conduct

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The Debate

Taiwan Calls for East China Sea Code of Conduct

Ma Ying-jeou is seeking to position Taiwan as a regional peacemaker as tensions rise in the region.

Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou called for a Code of Conduct in the East China Sea last week.

According to remarks reported by Taiwan Today, Ma said: “Given its pivotal location in East Asia, Taiwan is inevitably affected by developments in the region. It is the country’s unavoidable responsibility to urge all parties involved to address the risk of escalating confrontations in the area, abandon the Cold War approach of solving disputes through an arms race, and seek resolution in a new and rational manner.”

The Taiwanese President suggested that the best way to do this would be to establish a Code of Conduct in the East China Sea that would cover operations in both the sea and air. Ma also suggested that a “regional multilateral negotiation mechanism” be created to ensure the region’s peaceful development and prosperity.

Framing this as a long-term goal, President Ma also suggested that short-term remedies could be pursued to reduce the potential for miscalculation leading to conflict. “If necessary,” President Ma said, “provisional measures could be adopted to avoid conflict and miscalculation and reduce the impact on freedom of flight and security.”

Ma made the comments while addressing the International Conference on Peace and Security in East Asia in Taipei. The one-day event was organized by Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Taipei-based National Chengchi University, and featured speakers and academics from around 15 different nations.

President Ma’s call for a code of conduct in the East China Sea was not his first foray into the budding tensions in the region. Since August 2012, a month before Japan nationalized some of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, President Ma has been promoting his so-called East China Sea Peace Initiative.

According to Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the East China Sea Peace Initiative is based on a number of principles, including refraining from antagonistic actions, continuing dialogue, shelving sovereignty disputes, observing international law and seeking co-prosperity through the joint development of the East China Sea’s resources.

The code of conduct that Ma proposed last week would seemingly be modeled off the South China Sea Code of Conduct China and ASEAN have tried to negotiate for some time now.

In many ways, Taiwan is well positioned to act as a mediator between Beijing and Tokyo. It has vehemently opposed both Japan’s nationalization of islands in the East China Sea as well as China’s establishment of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the region. Last month it explicitly challenged the latter with a joint Coast Guard-Military drill in China and Japan’s expressed ADIZs.

At the same time, Taipei has shrewdly used growing Sino-Japanese tensions to bolster its diplomatic position in the region, including by signing a fishery agreement with Japan that President Ma mentioned in his speech last week.