The dispute between Taiwan and Japan over fishing in waters surrounding the Japanese-controlled Okinotori atoll is to be on the agenda of the two nations’ first dialogue on the issue in Taipei late this month, Taiwan’s top fisheries official said yesterday.
Fisheries Agency Director-General Chen Tain-shou (陳添壽) confirmed the matter at a hearing of the legislature’s Economics Committee, in which several lawmakers expressed concern about the Okinotori issue and the planned dialogue with Japan.
The dispute erupted when a Taiwanese fishing boat was seized by Japan near Okinotori on April 25.
The administration of then-president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) lodged a strong protest with Japan after Japanese authorities refused to release the boat until its owner had paid a security deposit of ￥6 million (US$58,480 at the current exchange rate).
Japan defines the atoll as an island, which means it is entitled to a 200 nautical mile (370.4km) exclusive economic zone.
However, Taiwan maintains that it is not an island, because it cannot sustain human habitation.
The administration of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) on May 23 — three days after Tsai’s inauguration — announced it had reached an agreement with Japan to set up a new mechanism for talks on maritime cooperation.
At yesterday’s hearing at the Legislative Yuan, Chen said the first round of talks through the platform would touch on issues related to fishing in waters around Okinotori.
Asked if the chances are high for the two sides to reach an initial consensus on the issue, Chen said that based on experience, it would not be easy to produce a satisfactory result on fishing disputes in the first stage of negotiations.
“At least it is good that Japan is willing to include the Okinotori problem on the agenda,” Chen said.
Council of Agriculture Deputy Minister Chen Chi-chung (陳吉仲) said at the hearing that he hopes talks through the Taiwan-Japan dialogue platform can produce reasonable resolutions to fishery disputes between the two nations, particularly those concerning fishing rights.
So far, no precise date or members of the delegations from either side have been announced.
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