The Fisheries Administration has released the voyage data records of the Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28, the fishing boat that was fired upon by Philippine Coast Guard personnel on May 9. The data show that the shooting occurred at the eastern entrance to the Balintang Channel, possibly between these coordinates: 19° 57 minutes north latitude, 122° 48 minutes east longitude and 19° 59 minutes north latitude, 122° 55 minutes east longitude. It is therefore necessary to take a closer look at which country has jurisdiction over this area.
Manila has said the boat crossed a maritime border and entered Philippine territory, and gave this as the reason it was fired upon.
However, the Republic of China claims that the boat remained in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and did not enter the Philippines’ territorial waters, and so no maritime border was crossed.
What do the Philippines mean when they say that a border was crossed? To clarify that, it must be first understood that the Philippines has two sets of territorial maritime claims.
The first set are the treaty limits stipulated in the Treaty of Paris signed between the US and Spain in 1898.
The Treaty of Paris defined a rectangular area and stipulated that the islands within this area were ceded to the US by Spain. The Philippines have interpreted this to mean that not only these islands, but also the waters surrounding them, were ceded to the US.
Manila has therefore treated these waters as its territory and banned foreign fishing boats from passing through or fishing in the area. This was a reservation explicitly expressed by the Philippines when it signed the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1984.
The Philippines’ second set of claims fall under its Baseline Act, issued in 1961, which demarcates its base points. In 1978, the country declared its 200 nautical mile (370km) EEZ, after which it prohibited Taiwanese fishing boats from fishing in the waters around these islands.
The limits set by these treaties do not comply with international law, nor do they comply with the UN’s Law of the Sea.
To this day, not one country has recognized these limits and they were even directly challenged by Australia in 1988.
The Philippines claims that if Taiwanese fishing boats cross its treaty limits, then they are crossing a border. However, this is a claim deemed unacceptable by the international community.
The EEZs of the Philippines and Taiwan overlap, but does that mean that the Philippines can enforce its own laws in its unilaterally proclaimed zone?
Until neighboring countries have negotiated the demarcation of their overlapping waters, the Philippines and Taiwan both have a right to claim their respective zones, and it is not a question of which made the claim first.
According to its domestic legislation, the Philippines considers itself to be an archipelagic nation with sovereign rights in the waters within these archipelagos. However, the Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28 never entered the waters inside the archipelagic base line.
Furthermore, according to the Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Philippines should enter into negotiations with neighboring countries that claim traditional fishing rights in the area.
Taiwanese vessels have long fished in the waters between Taiwan and Luzon, and the position at which the shooting took place is part of Taiwanese fishermen’s traditional fishing grounds.
Chen Hurng-yu is a professor at Tamkang University’s Graduate Institute of Asian Studies.
Translated by Perry Svensson