Taiwan vows to protect its fishermen’s rights near Okinotori

The Taiwan government vowed Tuesday to protect the country's fishing rights in the waters near Japan-controlled Okinotori Atoll and said it will continue to hold dialogue with Japan to address the issue.

Premier Lin Chuan (??) said the government remained firm on Taiwanese fishermen's rights to operate in waters near Okinotori and had made that stance clear in its talks Monday with Japan on cooperation in maritime affairs.

The bilateral dialogue on maritime affairs was "just the beginning" and Taiwan is hoping for a resolution to the issue, he told reporters on the sidelines of an international conference in Taipei Tuesday.

His comments followed talks between Taiwan and Japan in Tokyo the previous day, during which Taiwan argued that it had the right to fish in the open sea around the atoll, while the Japanese maintained their claim to an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) that extends 200 nautical miles from the atoll, which lies 1,600 kilometers east of Taiwan.

Also on Tuesday, Chou Shyue-yow (???), deputy head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Department of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said that Taiwan and Japan will hold other meetings as soon as possible to deal with their differences on the Okinotori issue.

At a regular news briefing, Chou said that during Monday's dialogue both sides agreed to hold annual discussions on maritime affairs and to convene a meeting at the working group level as soon as possible to handle the Okinotori dispute.

Addressing Taiwanese fishermen's concern over the fishing rights issue, he said Okinotori is a "high risk" area, which means Taiwanese fishermen may be intercepted by Japanese authorities if they venture there.

In response to questions about the effective results of Monday's dialogue, Chou said the foreign ministry is committed to protecting Taiwanese fishermen's rights.

To that end, the ministry will seek further dialogue instead of confrontation and pursue cooperation instead of conflict, he said.

Chou noted that during Monday's meeting, Taiwan also protested Japan's seizure of a Taiwanese fishing vessel, the "Tung Sheng Chi No. 16" (???16?), in April some 150 nautical miles east-southeast of the atoll and demanded the return of a 6 million Japanese yen (US$54,000) deposit paid to Japan to secure the boat's release, but Japan did not yield.

Meanwhile, apart from the disagreements on the fishing rights issue, the Taiwanese and Japanese delegations discussed maritime rescue and cooperation in ocean research and technology, according to the ministry.

Monday's meeting was the first under a new mechanism for dialogue between Taiwan and Japan on maritime affairs.

The decision to establish bilateral dialogue was made May 23, three days after President Tsai Ing-wen (???) took office, amid a fishing rights dispute that had erupted when the "Tung Sheng Chi No. 16" was detained by Japan April 25 on the high seas near Okinotori.

At the time, the administration of then-President Ma Ying-jeou (???) lodged a strong protest with Japan after the Japanese authorities refused to release the boat until the owner had paid the security deposit.

Japan defines Okinotori as an island, which means it is entitled to a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone. The then-Ma administration argued that it was not an island under international law since it could not sustain human habitation.

The Tsai administration has said that while Japan has sovereignty over Okinotori, it is unclear whether Okinotori could be defined as an island or an atoll. Until the international community reaches a consensus on the issue, Japan should respect the freedom of Taiwan and other countries to fish in waters near Okinotori, the Tsai administration has said.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel