It is also worth noting that according to the Treaty of Paris signed in 1898 to end the Spanish-American War, Batanes islands do not actually belong to the Philippines, as the Spanish did not cede these islands to the US. For all these years, the waters around the Batanes archipelago and the Babuyan islands have been traditional Taiwanese fishing grounds, and according to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Philippines, as an archipelagic state, must recognize traditional fishing rights of other states within their archipelagic waters when they are designating maritime boundaries.
There is no getting around the fact that there is going to be an overlap in the exclusive economic waters of the Philippines and Taiwan, and that the issue of Taiwanese fishing rights in their traditional fishing grounds around the Batanes archipelago and the Babuyan islands needs to be resolved through talks between the two countries.
However, since Taipei and Manila cut diplomatic ties, the Philippines has consistently used the fact that no diplomatic relations exist as an excuse to refuse to sit down to talks. If Manila insists on maintaining the exclusive economic waters that it has announced as its official protected fishing grounds, it stands to reason that Taipei can adopt a similar approach.
If Philippine President Benigno Aquino III insists on respecting the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and wants to refer South China Sea disputes for arbitration to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, he should take a leaf from Japan’s book, and open talks with Taiwan to settle maritime issues.
Should the Philippines fail to come up with a response to this unfortunate affair that demonstrates sufficient goodwill on its part, the Taiwanese government needs to consider whether it should refer this dispute over fishing rights, caused by overlapping maritime zones, to the international tribunal for arbitration.
Chen Hurng-yu is a professor at Tamkang University’s Graduate Institute of Asian Studies.
Translated by Paul Cooper