President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said yesterday that Taiwan has maintained its sovereignty over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) while signing a recent fishery agreement with Japan, and insisted that sovereignty over the area is the foundation for fishing rights in waters around the islands.
The agreement, signed on April 11 after the 17th round of negotiations since August 1996, allows fishing vessels from Taiwan and Japan to operate in a 70,000km2 designated fishing zone without being subject to the jurisdiction of the other side, with Taiwan being granted an additional fishing zone of 4,800km2 outside Taiwan’s temporary enforcement line.
However, the agreement does not apply to waters within 12 nautical miles (22.2km) — a state’s territorial waters — surrounding the Diaoyutais, sparking concern among legislators about Taiwan’s failure to insist on the nation’s sovereignty over the controversial islands.
Ma, in an interview with the Chinese-language United Evening News, said the 70,000km2 fishing zone covers an area twice the size of Taiwan, and the government did not make any concessions on the nation’s sovereignty over the Diaoyutais when the two sides agreed to put aside territorial disputes.
“Ocean laws define sea territories according to land, and without sovereignty over the land, there are no fishing rights,” he said.
Ma’s comments on the sovereignty over the Diaoyutais came amid escalating confrontation between China and Japan over the islands as the Japanese government yesterday condemned China over eight Chinese vessels entering Japan’s territory near the islands.
Ma insisted that the Diaoyutais are part of the territory of the Republic of China and that fishery committees from Taiwan and Japan would meet again to discuss issues in the fishing zone.
Ma stressed that the waters surrounding the Diaoyutais are traditional fishing grounds for fishermen from New Taipei City (新北市), Keelung and Yilan County, and said the agreement would protect their rights.
He said Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and former Japanese prime minister Yoshihiko Noda both supported the fishery agreement. Taiwan will continue to promote Ma’s proposed East China Sea peace initiative, which asked Japan and China to join Taiwan to shelve the territorial disputes over the islands and focus efforts on developing natural resources in the surrounding waters.
Separately yesterday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on all parties to exercise self-restraint and not to escalate tensions in the region.
Ministry spokesperson Anna Kao (高安) declined to comment on the entry into waters off the Diaoyutai Islands by Chinese maritime surveillance ships because she said that cross-strait affairs are the mandate of the Mainland Affairs Council.
In handling the Diaoyutais issue, the government has upheld its position of “safeguarding sovereignty, shelving disputes, pursuing peace and reciprocity, and promoting joint exploration and development,” the principles on which Ma proposed the East China Sea peace initiative, Kao said.
Additional reporting by Shih Hsiu-chuan