After having been delayed for many years, fisheries negotiations between Taiwan and Japan have finally been concluded and an agreement has been reached.
Japan’s willingness to make concessions was mainly due to cooperation in several areas.
In terms of timing, the conflict between China and Japan over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), which Japan calls the Senkaku Islands, started heating up last year.
In addition, Taiwanese fishermen and activists working to protect Republic of China (ROC) sovereignty over the islands have also entered the disputed area.
Of course, Japan does not want to have to deal with both Taiwanese and Chinese sovereignty claims over the Diaoyutais at the same time. Since it seems unlikely that tensions between China and Japan will ease in the short term, the only way to avoid a situation where China and Taiwan would cooperate on the issue was for Japan to pro-actively bring the fisheries agreement with Taiwan to a conclusion.
From a geographical perspective, the scope of the fisheries dispute between Taiwan and Japan did not only include traditional Taiwanese fishing grounds, it also included the waters around the Diaoyutais.
Japan was hoping to take advantage of the talks to create a tacit agreement between the two countries regarding the waters around the islands. This would allow Japan to effectively control the area and reduce the risk of conflict with Taiwan over the disputed territory.
Finally, in terms of human relations, the main Japanese representative during the negotiations was Koji Ishikawa of the China division at the Japanese foreign ministry. While serving in the same division in 1999, he was in charge of planning the first fisheries talks between Taiwan and Japan.
He fully understood the importance of the talks to the relationship between the two countries and he was also very familiar with the content of the negotiations.
When he returned to the China division for the recently concluded talks, he was naturally very familiar with the situation and was able to deal smoothly with protests from the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and from fishermen in Okinawa, and push through the talks.
One question that arises is what future political ramifications the fisheries agreement will have.
First, it means a platform has been established for handling fisheries issues between Taiwan and Japan.
In the past, the fisheries issue has always constituted the biggest bone of contention between the two nations. The most important result of this agreement is that it establishes a fisheries commission to function as a platform for resolving fisheries disputes and conflicts between the two countries.
The commission can even handle questions concerning the two countries’ fishing quotas in the Northern Pacific and the Southern Atlantic oceans and thus help further stabilize Taiwanese-Japanese relations.
Second, it sets a precedent for agreements between the two countries.
In the past, the level of official exchanges between Taiwan and Japan has always been too low, but following the common understanding reached during these talks, the two sides will be able to elevate the official level of exchange when handling procedural talks.
This will facilitate bilateral talks and once the precedent has been set, it will be helpful for holding procedural talks.
Tsai Zheng-jia is head of the Second Research Division at the Institute of International Relations at National Chengchi University.
Translated by Perry Svensson