The Philippines has signed very few fisheries agreements allowing foreign nationals to fish in its national waters. Looking at agreements signed between China and the Philippines to relieve tensions between the two countries over the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島), I discovered that China and the Philippines signed a MOU on fisheries cooperation in 2004, with a follow-up in January 2007 aimed at extending the terms of the memorandum.
Nevertheless, these are only MOUs, not official agreements, and have yet to be implemented, stuck in limbo due to the Fisheries Code.
Manila Economic and Cultural Office Director Antonio Basilio has said that the fisheries agreement Taiwan recently signed with Japan could be taken as a blueprint for negotiations of a similar agreement between our countries. I do not hold any high hopes for this.
One view is that China is the main obstacle to the signing of an agreement between Taiwan and the Philippines.
However, where does this talk of China’s obstruction come from, when even Beijing has had problems signing an official fisheries agreement with the Philippines? One must look at the Philippines’ wish to keep its fisheries strictly national to understand what the problem is.
If the Philippines enters into negotiations with Taiwan on a fisheries agreement in an attempt to resolve the current tensions, it will not be able to overstep the conditions of the MOU it has with China. If it does, Beijing will exert pressure on the Philippines to sign an agreement and this is not something the Philippine government wants to happen.
It is extremely unlikely that the Philippines would be able to use negotiations with Taiwan to confront China, for this would be a poor bargaining chip.
Given these factors, Taiwan’s government should consider first establishing codes of conduct by negotiating for maritime safety mutual trust measures to make sure it is safe for Taiwanese fishermen to operate in the overlapping territorial waters, before trying to resolve the issue of the overlapping waters itself.
Chen Hurng-yu is a professor at Tamkang University’s Graduate Institute of Asian Studies.
Translated by Paul Cooper