The Council of Agriculture’s Fisheries Agency yesterday said that it will protect the fishing rights and traditional fishing grounds of local fishermen at talks with Japan that could be resumed next month, despite the ongoing territorial dispute over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台).
Instead of touching upon the sensitive issue of sovereignty over the disputed island chain, defining the overlapping waters between Taiwan and Japan is to be the focus of the long-stalled 17th round of talks, the agency said.
Although there is no controversy over Taiwan’s territorial waters, which extend to 12 nautical miles (22.2km) from the islands’ coastal baseline, overlapping parts of the exclusive economic zones of the two countries, which extend up to 200 nautical miles (370km) from the coastline, will require further negotiation, the agency said.
Taiwan wants to resolve the issue according to a principle that considers the size of the islands, their population [the islands are uninhabited] and frequency of economic activities, while Japan insists on applying a median line as the line of demarcation, which would extend to the area 50 nautical miles (92km) northeast of Taiwan, it said.
Amid disputed claims over the island group, what is most important is to ensure that fishing boats from Taiwan can operate in the area near the Diaoyutais without problems, Fisheries Agency Director-General James Sha (沙志一) said.
If any vessels from Taiwan are detained and fined a maximum of NT$1 million (US$34,244) by Japan, the agency will pay about 80 percent of the fines, it said.
At a separate setting yesterday, former representative to Japan Koh Se-kai (許世楷) said Taiwan and Japan almost sealed a fisheries agreement on the islands in 2006.
“The [Diaoyutais] controversy has been a ‘hot potato’ issue for every representative to Japan, but a fisheries agreement was almost completed during the Democratic Progressive Party [DPP] administration,” said Koh, who served as Taiwan’s representative to Japan between 2004 and 2008, on the sidelines of a forum that discussed Taiwan’s bid for a seat at the UN.
In August 2006, the DPP administration persuaded the Japanese government to shelve the sovereignty issue and focus on Taiwanese fishing rights and Tokyo secretly sent then-Japanese deputy minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries Miyakoshi Mitsuhiro to Taiwan for further discussion, Koh said.
However, Japanese media ended up breaking the news about the unprecedented visit as Mitsuhiro became the highest-ranking active Japanese official to visit Taipei since Japan severed official diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 1972.
The Japanese government was forced to admit to the visit, but said Mitsuhiro was on a private trip to Taiwan and the fisheries deal was subsequently called off, Koh said.
The opportunity was lost as Japan’s Cabinet was reshuffled in September 2006, he said.
Koh said that Taiwan was able to persuade Japan to consider resuming talks with a three-point proposal it had submitted, which reiterated that Taiwan would try to resolve the issue only by bilateral dialogue, would not collaborate with China and — for the greater good — would not jeopardize its relations with Japan because of the ongoing controversy.
Koh added that Taiwan had cited two historical incidents to emphasize its stance that fishing rights should, and could, be resolved.
During Japan’s Meiji period, Japanese complained about not being able to hunt or chop timber in the woods after Tokyo nationalized all forestry resources, he said, adding that the controversy was later resolved when the central government, citing “traditional practices,” allowed residents to continue using the forests.
The second case was the Kuril Islands dispute between Japan and Russia where Japan faced the same dilemma as Taiwan does in the Diaoyutais dispute: Japanese fishermen were not allowed to fish off the waters around the disputed islands.
Japan and Russia later worked out a solution, which allowed Japanese boats to fish in the area as long as they paid entry fees and adhered to a fishing quota, Koh said.
Regarding the recent controversy, Koh warned that President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) proposal to “drag China into the equation” was the wrong move to make as it jeopardized the mutual trust between Taiwan and Japan.