Sat, Jul 30, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Negotiations on fishing dispute stall

NO PROGRESS The government said relations with Japan remained firm, but there was no sign of a breakthrough that would protect fishermen from Japanese patrols

By Mac William Bishop and Jimmy Chuang  /  STAFF REPORTERS

The latest round of negotiations between Taiwan and Japan over fishing rights in the seas surrounding the disputed Diaoyutai (釣魚台) island chain made little progress yesterday, ending only with an agreement to continue talks, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said yesterday.

The talks began with Taiwan's top representative to Japan, Koh Sei-kai (許世凱), reiterating Taiwan's position that the Diaoyutais are part of Taiwan's territory. The president of the Japan Interchange Association, Masaji Takahashi, also repeated Tokyo's claim on the island chain.

The discussions, the 15th in a series of negotiations on the issue, were closed to the media, in large part because of protests by Beijing, which says that Japan must talk to China to resolve the issue.

Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs refused to comment on the issue, saying that there was no official government involvement in the talks.

However, one Japanese government official told the Taipei Times that senior officials from the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were "attending the talks in a private capacity."

The officials, who were meeting in Tokyo with their Taiwanese counterparts, agreed to another round of talks next March in Taipei, a MOFA statement said. The exact date of the talks has yet to be decided, and preliminary discussions will be held in October and January, MOFA said.

The Diaoyutais are held by the Japanese, who call them Senkaku-shoto. In recent months, the controversy over the sovereignty of the chain became a thorn in the side of Taiwan-Japan relations after local fishermen held a large-scale demonstration last month to protest what they called the unfair treatment they had received at the hands of the Japan Coast Guard.

Taiwanese fishing vessels apprehended in areas claimed by Japan are often detained and fined by the Japanese authorities.

Premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷), meanwhile, said yesterday that the legal rights of fishermen would remain the government's priority in negotiations with the Japanese government.

"It is not fair and not a good idea to limit the area in which fishermen do their work because it is going to impact on their business," Hsieh said. "No matter what, we [the two governments] shall consider and work out what is the best for both countries' fishermen."

Hsieh said that the most important thing in negotiations such as these was how both governments were to enforce the law. He said that the income of fishermen would be hurt if both governments insisted on enforcing the law as a bottom line.

Hsieh said Japan and Taiwan had been friendly toward each other for a long period of time.

"The friendship shall continue, no matter what," he said.

The premier said that the Japanese government was still considering a new visa policy toward Taiwanese citizens which would allow visitors to enjoy visa-free entry.

He said Taiwan's government was also working on more friendly policies toward the Japanese, but he did not detail what the policy suggestions were.

"I believe in the wisdom of both the Japanese negotiators and the Taiwanese negotiators and believe that they will work out a solution that is best for both sides," he said.

The Presidential Office issued a press release yesterday clarifying Taiwan's stance on fishing disputes with Japan.

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