While the nation engages in heated discussion about the Papua New Guinea fund scandal, Taiwan's sovereignty is being trampled internationally. The media ignores this and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs seems to be busy with internal troubles.
Late last month, crew members from a Greenpeace ship boarded the Taiwanese tuna boat Nian Sheng 3 while it was fishing in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. Not finding any proof of illegal activities, the activists escorted the ship out of international waters, with the excuse that they wanted to protect tuna. These actions violate Taiwan's right of sovereignty over ships flying its flag in international waters.
But all Taiwan did was have the Fisheries Agency issue some weak protests and send a letter to the secretarial office of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) asking it to uphold justice. Greenpeace is not a member of the WCPFC, but even if it were, the commission is a management organization with no power to handle rights violations -- in any case, the WCPFC's next meeting isn]t until the end of this year. The actions of the Fisheries Agency are not only too late, they are also aimed at the wrong recipient. Meanwhile, the foreign ministry has done nothing. Then early this month Greenpeace again raided another Taiwanese ship, the Ho Tsai Fa 18.
Ships in international waters fall under the jurisdiction of the country where the ship is registered -- its flag state. This is one of the fundamental principles of international law. The ship's captain has no right to allow others to board the ship, and any such action that has not been agreed to by the authorities of the flag state is illegal and constitutes a clear and serious infringement of national sovereignty.
In 1989, Taiwanese fishing boats were found salmon fishing, perhaps illegally, in the north Pacific near the US. A boat from the US Coast Guard asked permission for observers to come aboard to investigate, which Taiwan categorically refused. Although observers were worried that the Taiwanese boat would dump the fish to destroy the presumed evidence, the US ship only followed the fishing boat for a few thousand nautical miles until it reached Taiwanese waters, where local authorities took control of the investigation. That a country as big and strong as the US doesn]t dare to board a foreign fishing boat shows its respect for this fundamental rule.
A system for boarding boats in international waters was implemented in the central and western Pacific this year -- the most advanced measure taken so far by any international fishery organization to enforce laws on protection and management. Taiwan has dedicated many years and dozens of negotiation rounds to arrange mutual boarding mechanisms with different countries. Countries that want crew to be allowed to board Taiwanese fishing boats can only do so after agreeing to give Taiwan the same rights.
To implement this mechanism, the US, New Zealand, France and Canada have already registered their ships. At this crucial moment, Greenpeace's repeated actions pose a serious threat to the future of the mechanism. If Taiwan doesn]t understand how to voice its determination to protect its national sovereignty, then it will be hard to imagine how registered ships from other countries will treat Taiwan's ships in the future.