After 17 rounds of talks, Taiwan and Japan have finally signed a fisheries agreement, and this should have a positive effect on their bilateral relationship. However, there are a few more issues that are worth discussing, given concern over national interests.
The most noteworthy part of the agreement is that it delineates two areas: a special cooperation area and an area where the laws and regulations of the other party do not apply.
The first refers to the area east of the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), between the Diaoyutais and the Miyako Islands in the Ryukyu Archipelago. The status of this area still has to be negotiated by the two countries. The second is located west of the first area. It includes the Diaoyutais — known as the Senkakus in Japan — and covers the area west of the islands to 122° 30 minutes eastern longitude and between 24° 46 minutes and 27° northern latitude.
The status of this area allows unrestricted access to fishing vessels from Taiwan and Japan, and excludes the application of either party’s laws and regulations.
In July 2003, after fisheries talks with Japan failed to produce a result, Taiwan announced a temporary enforcement line to serve as an identification line for fishing vessels to guarantee the safety of Taiwanese fishermen working in the waters between Japan and China. According to Taiwan’s understanding and position, the area west of this line — from the first and second point to the third point — is Taiwanese waters, and Taiwanese vessels working west of this line enjoy the protection of the Coast Guard Administration.
However, the Diaoyutais lie west of this line, and Japanese coast guard patrols barred Taiwanese fishing boats from entering within 12 nautical miles (22km) of the islands, and if they did, either expelled or detained them. Although Japan does not recognize Taiwan’s temporary enforcement line, it has for a long time been a demarcation tacitly agreed upon by both sides.
Japanese fishing boats working in this area do not venture beyond the line between the Diaoyutais and Pengjia Islet (彭佳嶼), which is located approximately along 122° 55 minutes eastern longitude. Under the fisheries agreement, Japan is now giving up its law enforcement rights in the territorial water zone extending 12 nautical miles from the Diaoyutais, but Japanese fishing boats can now move beyond 122° 55 minutes eastern longitude to 122° 30 minutes and operate closer to Pengjia Islet, an area where Taiwan now loses jurisdiction.
This agreement gives Taiwan a small additional area to operate in, at the southern edge of the Diaoyutais, by adjusting the temporary enforcement line. In the northeast corner, there is also a small additional area. While these two areas combined do not quite add up to the area between 122° 30 minutes and 122° 55 minutes eastern longitude, the size of these two areas will be very close if the 12 nautical mile zone around the Diaoyutais that Japan gave up is included.
However, the area gained in the northeast corner is fairly insignificant, because it is not easy for fishing boats to move around in without crossing the line. It is difficult to understand why the two parties would delineate the area in such a manner, which is rarely seen in connection to the delineation of fishing grounds.
The area where the laws and regulations of the other party do not apply was originally part of the waters claimed by Taiwan, but it has now been converted into an area in which Taiwanese and Japanese fishing boats can work without restriction.
Furthermore, according to the second clause of the agreement’s second article, the model of cooperation in the special cooperation area will be decided through talks by a Taiwan-Japan fisheries commission. According to the regulations on setting up this temporary enforcement line, this area is part of the territorial waters claimed by Taiwan, but it has now been converted into waters jointly managed by Taiwan and Japan.
In addition, Article Four of the agreement stipulates that “no item of the agreement, or no measure adopted for the sake of its implementation, may be perceived as affecting the position of the two parties’ competent authorities on any issue related to the law of the seas.”
This text is not specific enough. What does “any issue related to the law of the seas” mean? The agreement is restricted to fisheries issues, but does that mean that resource surveys and explorations by the two parties can be restricted due to fisheries issues?
Taiwan and Japan have no diplomatic relations, and that was one of the reasons why the two countries were unable to conclude an agreement for many years. Today, the situation has changed and, with Taiwan making greater concessions, the two sides have reached an agreement. One significant outcome of this is that this agreement can be used as a model by Taiwan when negotiating overlapping water claims with other neighboring countries, for example, the Philippines.
At a time when both Taiwan and Japan are in great need of resources, Japan should use the current amicable atmosphere to follow up on this agreement by negotiating an agreement with Taiwan on the exploration of resources in the area.
Chen Hurng-yu is a professor in the Graduate Institute of Asian Studies at Tamkang University.
Translated by Perry Svensson