TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan’s representative office in Tokyo has launched a probe into a report published yesterday by the Sankei Simbun newspaper that the United States and Japan are slated to hold a joint military exercise in November as a mock operation to retake the Tiaoyutai Islands if China occupies them, Foreign Ministry spokesman James Chang said.
Chang said the Republic of China’s sovereignty claim over the islands is unquestionable and that the government of Taiwan will closely monitor the situation.
According to the report, the U.S. navy and Japanese maritime forces are likely to hold the joint drill immediately after U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Japan next month for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.
Chang reiterated Taiwan’s sovereignty over the island chain located in the East China Sea, saying that the Tiaoyutais, known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan, are an indivisible part of R.O.C. territory.
American Institute in Taiwan spokeswoman Sheila Paskman later reiterated Washington’s long-standing stance on the issue that the U.S. does not have a position on the question of the ultimate sovereignty of the islands. “We expect the claimants to resolve this issue through peaceful means among themselves,” she said without making any direct comment on the report of the naval exercise.
However, she said the islands fall within the scope of Article 5 of the 1960 U.S.-Japan Treaty on Mutual Cooperation and Security because they have “been under the administrative control of the government of Japan since 1972.”
The islands are claimed by Taiwan, China and Japan. The contention between Japan and China was further inflamed when the Japanese Coast Guard detained a Chinese trawler captain Sept. 7 following a collision between his vessel and a Japanese patrol boat in waters near the islands.
The captain was released only after China’s Foreign Ministry issued a stern statement warning Japan that if he was not released, China would take “strong counter-measures for which Japan would have to take all the consequences.”
The islands, which lie north of Taiwan and south of Japan’s Okinawa prefecture, are surrounded by teeming fishing grounds and are believed to sit atop rich oil and gas deposits.