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Thursday, 29 November 2012
Page: 10414

Senator FURNER (Queensland) (23:21): I rise this evening to inform the Senate of a matter that I have been involved in for some time as a result of my participation on the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. It is in relation to the East China Sea and, in particular, the Diaoyutai Islands. Through my capacity on that committee I have had the opportunity to have ambassadors before the committee and to question them on the results of and, in particular, how that dispute is being handled.

The Diaoyutai, or Senkaku, Islands have a long history which dates back to the Ming Dynasty, from 1368 to 1644, when the islands were discovered by the Chinese. The islands consist of five uninhabited islands located in the East China Sea north-west of Taiwan. Over time, the islands have proved to be a popular fishing spot for fishermen from Taiwan and a favourable place for shelter during storms. In addition, medical herbs were gathered there.

Lately, controversies in the East China Sea about the Diaoyutai Islands have seen the government of the Republic of China, Taiwan, reiterate that the Diaoyutais are an island group that belongs to Taiwan and are therefore an inherent part of the territory of the Republic of China. As I understand it, the Republic of China's consistent position has been that the Diaoyutais were returned to the Republic of China, along with Taiwan, based on the Cairo Declaration, the Potsdam Proclamation, the Japanese Instrument of Surrender, the Treaty of San Francisco and the Treaty of Peace between the Republic of China and Japan.

Notwithstanding, the Republic of China understands that all parties concerned hold conflicting standpoints and that this is the cause of longstanding disputes and the recent rise of tensions in the region. With respect to the Diaoyutai issue, the government of the Republic of China has consistently affirmed its position of:

… safeguarding sovereignty, shelving disputes, pursuing peace and reciprocity, and promoting joint exploration and development.

With the Diaoyutai Islands being located in the East China Sea, they are an important air and sea transportation hub in the Western Pacific and therefore have clear significance for security and peace in the Asia-Pacific region and in the world as a whole.

For an Australian government, the maintenance of peace, stability and prosperity in our region is of vital interest. This government is committed to seizing the opportunities for Australia as the world's economic and strategic power shifts towards our region. This commitment was expressed recently in the government's Australia in the Asian century white paper.North Asia is particularly important to us because China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan are all among our top trading partners. Australians naturally welcome any initiatives that could reduce tensions in the region and promote the peaceful resolution of disputes. Taiwan's President, Dr Ma Ying-jeou, has set out some valued principles in this regard in his East China Sea Peace Initiative, including refraining from antagonistic actions, shelving controversies and not abandoning dialogue; resolving disputes through peaceful means and in accordance with international law; and exploring ways to cooperate on exploring and developing resources in the East China Sea.

As a matter of foreign policy and principle, Australia does not take sides in complex territorial disputes between countries that are our friends.The Australian federal government hopes goodwill and common sense will prevail in the East China Sea in reaching an amicable settlement. Having built strong relationships with the Taiwanese people here in Australia and abroad, I am confident this is possible. On that note I must say, Mr President, that particularly in Brisbane, as you would possibly know, we hold the greatest diaspora of Taiwanese people in this country, in particular around the Sunnybank region and in the seat of Moreton, where the member for Moreton, Mr Graham Perrett, does an amazing job in his communication and dialogue with the Taiwanese communities in that seat.

I also wish to thank the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Australia and, in particular, Ambassador Katharine Chang, Steve Chang and Wen Cheng Sung, along with Anthony Lin, both from the Brisbane office, for their friendship and education about that wonderful country, Taiwan. Having listened to them before I was fortunate enough to have the chance to visit that country recently as part of a delegation of five from the Senate—Senator Thistlethwaite, Senator Gallacher, Senator Brandis, Senator Ryan and me—I must say that their stories about the opportunities and the business ventures Taiwan has to offer are amazing. You don't really appreciate it until you travel to a country and see what those sorts of initiatives and business enterprises can deliver firsthand; it is only when you see it through your own eyes that you see what an amazing country it is. We travelled from the north to the south and saw a steel manufacturing plant beyond my wildest possible imagination. We also saw the coal fired power station very close to the steel plant. The plant receives coal from Australia—one of our greatest exports to that particular country. It was amazing to see the technology and the efficiencies that they have as a country in terms of the relationship they have with their employees. It is one of the opportunities I recognised firsthand.

In the very few days we had there, I went into a nuclear power station for the first time ever and saw firsthand its operation. I do not have a position either way on nuclear power, but it certainly enlightened me as to the beneficial nature of that type of power, and the efficiency was amazing: 2c per kilowatt hour is delivered out of that power station up there in the north of Taiwan.

So I just want to acknowledge those people in particular.

I want to thank the other senators on that delegation. It was certainly helpful to have the likes of Senator Thistlethwaite, who speaks reasonable Mandarin, to communicate with a number of the ministers and officials over there. It certainly made our opportunity for communication with those people a lot easier. I still am amazed by the fact that they are such a warm and friendly, amazing people with whom I am honoured to have an association—and, certainly, through my role as a senator for Queensland, I will continue my involvement with the Taiwanese communities out in the southern suburbs of Brisbane. Quite often I will get involved in activities with them, raising money for tragic events that happen around the world. I went to a fundraiser with them once where we raised thousands of dollars for the tsunami victims in Japan. Their hearts go out as a group, as a community, to anyone in the world. This is the type of people that we are fortunate to have in our country—whom I refer to as Australians; they migrated here over many years. As I reflected on recently in this speech, we have the greatest diaspora of Taiwanese people in Brisbane and it is an absolute honour and a privilege to have them as part of our community in Australia.