Thu, Jul 31, 2003 - Page 3 News List

PFP critics blame government for troubled waters

By Fiona Lu  /  STAFF REPORTER

PFP lawmakers complained yesterday that the predicament of Taiwanese fishermen accused of working in Philippine territory was the direct result of the government's failure to declare its territorial waters.

PFP Legislator Chiu Yi (邱毅) said that by not declaring an exclusive economic zone, the government has made it easy for Philippine authorities to claim that Taiwanese fishermen have been fishing in Philippine waters -- even though they were in fact fishing just off the coast of Taiwan.

Chiu, who was a fishery official in the former KMT government, said that the nation's uncompleted declaration of territorial waters has affected Taiwan's sovereignty -- especially since neighboring countries, including the Philippines, have extended their maritime boundaries into waters traditionally regarded as belonging to Taiwan.

"The Philippine authorities can detain our fishermen at will by accusing them of entering that country's territorial waters," an angry Chiu told a news conference yesterday morning.

Chiu said that it is imperative for the government to declare its territorial waters in order to protect the rights of Taiwanese fishermen working in the seas between Taiwan and the Philippines.

At the same time, PFP Legislator Cheng Mei-lan (鄭美蘭) blasted the government for what she said was its failure to solve the issue of overlapping fishing zones.

"This neglect gave the Philippine authorities a chance to claim as its territory the maritime zone in which Taiwanese fishermen have been fishing for decades," Cheng argued.

She warned that the problem would get worse when Philippine forces start chasing Taiwanese fishing boats all the way to the waters of Taichung Harbor -- the theoretical limit of The Philippines self-declared 200-nautical-mile zone.

In response to the attacks, James Sha (沙志一), vice chairman of the Council of Agriculture's Fisheries Agency, played down the possibility of Philippine forces conducting such a chase.

But he admitted that the proximity of Taiwan and the Philippines does mean that that country's economic zone extends to the waters off Taichung.

"Similarly, our exclusive economic zone extends to the waters of northern Luzon Island (in the Philippines)," Sha said.

In answer to opposition criticism, Sha said that the government had, in fact, defined its territorial waters as early as two years ago and had delimited the country's exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.

"An announcement made by the Ministry of Interior at the time identified several base points around Taiwan and marked out our maritime boundary," Sha said.

Sha stressed that bilateral talks with the Philippines were underway to resolve the issue of the disputed waters.

"The fundamental problem for such talks is that it is always time-consuming for two countries to reach an agreement about something that concerns the economic interests of both sides," he said.

Sha admitted that this country's tenuous diplomatic situation would make it difficult to reach any agreements with its neighbors that delimited it's economic zone.

However, he said that the administration was working on more talks that would include the possibility of collaborating with neighboring countries and sharing resources in overlapping waters.

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