Taiwanese fishermen have been the biggest winners in the signing of a fishery agreement between Taiwan and Japan. They can now fish in the waters surrounding the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) —which are claimed by Taiwan, China and Japan (where they are known as the Senkaku Islands), but are controlled by Japan — because Japan gave Taiwan permission to fish in three maritime areas outside of Taiwan’s enforcement line.
Politically speaking, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has been the biggest winner. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which constantly criticized him after conflicts in the East China Sea, has now turned around and applauded him. The East China Sea peace initiative proposed by Ma initially fell on deaf ears. Now, however, everything seems to be fine.
On Tuesday last week, former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice presided over a conference at Stanford University in California attended by leading academics and former US government officials. Ma delivered a video address entitled “Steering through a Sea of Change.” He pompously said that although 16 rounds of fisheries talks had been held between Taiwan and Japan without results, an agreement was reached this time thanks to his “leadership” and thanks to the East China Sea peace initiative he proposed last year. Let there be no doubt, Ma is a winner and he has made contributions.
Of course, luck and opportunity are necessary for a great man to succeed. If one does not have these two things, nothing will ever come of one’s efforts. So, apart from congratulating Ma on his achievements, let us take a look at where the luck and opportunity came from.
The economic zone that Taiwan has declared around the Diaoyutais, or the temporary enforcement line to be more precise, runs along a line midway between the Diaoyutais and the Ryukyu Islands in the south, along 126o east longitude and 29o, 30 minutes north latitude. However, the fishery agreement with Japan only covers about half of this area, from below 27o north latitude. This is where the problem lies. How can reaching an agreement on only half the area be considered a great success and why was the area above 27o north latitude not been been discussed?
The key point here is that China and Japan came to a “non-governmental” agreement on the waters between 27o north latitude and 30o north latitude in 1955, listing the area as a “provisional measures zone.” The two countries later confirmed this agreement by signing two Sino-Japan Fishery Agreements, in 1975 and 1997. Japan thus cannot discuss this area with Taiwan.
So why did China and Japan not reach an agreement on the waters below 27o north latitude in 1955? Because China believed that it was still fighting a civil war with Taiwan and that the waters below 27o north latitude were a war zone.
In practical terms, Beijing was right. It did the same thing in 1992 when it excluded the waters around Taiwan in its Law on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone of the People’s Republic of China, and again when it announced the base points and base lines of China’s territorial waters. After all, such announcements are made for enforcement purposes. A government that stakes claim to its territorial waters and then is unable to enforce its claims would only lose face.
Beijing has always said that its civil war with Taiwan has not ended, or that certain issues are remainders of the Chinese Civil War, as a reason for claiming that Taiwan’s external relations are domestic Chinese issues and then use this argument as leverage to stop Taiwan from using direct diplomatic relations to protect the rights and interests of its people.