A senior foreign affairs official yesterday expressed optimism that talks between Taipei and Tokyo on fishery issues would resume soon and without being hindered by competing sovereignty claims over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), which are also claimed by China.
Speaking to reporters at a tea gathering, the official, who requested anonymity, said a new round of Taiwan-Japan talks on fishery issues, which would be the 17th round of such talks if they were held, could take place as early as next month.
The official said the “governments of both sides have shown a willingness to move on” to address fishery issues after bilateral relations recently ran into problems connected to the bitter sovereignty dispute over the island chain, known as the Senkakus in Japan.
Japan has been sending patrol vessels to drive away Taiwanese fishing boats that enter its claimed exclusive economic zone (EEZ), including waters off the Diaoyutai Islands, following its 1996 EEZ and continental shelf legislation.
Over the years, Taiwan and Japan have engaged in 16 rounds of fishery talks, which have yielded few results. The 16th round of talks were held in February 2009.
Through a possible 17th round, Taiwan is set to aim to ensure that fishermen can operate in the waters off the Diaoyutai Islands without interference from Japan, he said.
“We hope that we can at least come up with some provisionary measures which will protect the rights of our fishermen before both sides can strike a formal deal,” he said.
The official said Japan wished to keep order in the region through talks with Taiwan.
“There is no reason why Japan would hope for instability in the region, because there is nothing for Japan to gain from that,” he said.
In a rare statement by Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba to Taiwan on Friday, Gemba used the term “pending issue” to refer to disputes surrounding the territorial issue and said that Japan shared Taiwan’s expectation that talks on fishery issues would soon reopen.
The Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun on Sunday said that it felt the reason Japan was eager to mend relations with Taiwan was to prevent Taiwan from aligning with China on sovereignty claims over the Diaoyutais.
The unnamed Taiwanese official did not comment on the role of China in the case.
“We hope that we can maintain dialogue with Japan, or even reinforce it further, by signing a memorandum of understanding on fishery cooperation,” he said.
He said that the way Gemba referred to the territorial row between the two countries as “pending issues” was a sign of goodwill that showed the dispute could be set aside while both sides move ahead on talks over fishing rights.
According to the ministry, Japan had earlier proposed that the 17th round of talks be held last week, but Taipei held off on agreeing to the suggestion after Tokyo nationalized three of the islands on Sept. 11, which caused tensions to rise in the region.
In related news, which comes ahead of the US presidential election late next month, long-stalled talks with the US under the platform of the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement — held back due to issues related to imports of US beef into Taiwan — are expected to resume earlier next year.