Taipei-Tokyo Fisheries Agreement: A Raw Deal
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
May 6, 2013
Summary: On November 5 last year, this paper published an editorial. We observed that Japan denies the existence of any sovereignty disputes. Yet our side prattles on about "shelving disputes," about "consultations," and about "joint development," including "fishing rights negotiations." Our side is essentially selling out the territorial sovereignty of the Republic of China, for nothing more than superficial, temporary, fishing rights without assurances. In addition to forfeiting sovereignty over the Diaoyutai Islands in perpetuity, we could well lose any fishing rights as well. The real beneficiary of these "fishing rights" negotiations is Japan, which has taken advantage of internal strife within China for over a century. For Taiwanese fishermen, for the Kuomintang government, and for the Chinese people as a whole, the fisheries agreement is a raw deal.
Full Text below:
Between August 1996 and February 2009, Taipei and Tokyo engaged in 16 negotiations over fishing rights in the East China Sea ""exclusive economic zone," all to no avail. The key was sovereignty over the Diaoyutai Islands. In September of last year, the Japanese government "nationalized" the Diaoyutai Islands. This provoked a new round of sovereignty disputes. Unexpectedly, Beijing adhered firmly to its position, refusing to yield even an inch. Tokyo found itself riding a tiger, unable to dismount. Therefore it resorted to an old trick. It drove a wedge between Taipei and Beijing. . As a result, the Taipei-Tokyo fishing rights negotiations, stalled for three years, suddenly moved ahead by leaps and bounds, and yielded "instantaneous" results. On the 10th of last month the two sides signed a "Taiwan-Japan Fisheries Agreement."
On the surface, an imperious Japan finally "made concessions." It relinquished its claim to the "exclusive economic zone," per international law. It agreed to cease driving out or harassing Taiwan fishing vessels from nearly 80,000 square kilometers of ocean area. The agreement includes a provision for our side to exercise temporary jurisdiction over approximately 4530 square kilometers of ocean. President Ma and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have repeatedly emphasized that Article Four of the agreement includes a "disclaimer." The disclaimer, they assure us, protects our claims of sovereignty, and "does not trade sovereignty for fishing rights." The agreement is trumpeted as the successful culmination of Ma Ying-jeou's "East China Sea Peace Initiative." It is purportedly a masterpiece that embodies his four principles: "preservation of sovereignty, shelving of disputes, peace and mutually beneficial exchanges, and joint development."
But the "exclusive economic zone" is an extension of "territorial waters." The baselines for territorial waters are determined by land territory. Diaoyutai sovereignty is the ultimate determinant of the "exclusive economic zone." Everyone knows this. During the recent round of negotiations, the Japanese side viewed the dispute, from beginning to end, as one over Diaoyutai Islands sovereignty. The Taiwan side may unilaterally refrain from asserting territorial sovereignty. In exchange, it may obtain fishing rights. But the Japanese side will interpret this as proof that "Taiwan fishermen used Diaoyutai Islands waters as no more than fishing grounds," and acquired only sea use rights.
Japan is allowing Taiwanese fishing vessels access to waters outside the Diaoyutai Islands' 12 nautical mile limit. Japan refers to these waters as "Japan's territorial waters." Reports are that the agreement prohibits landing on the island. The Ma administration, astonishingly, has not underscored our sovereignty over the Diaoyutai Islands. For example, Ma clearly failed to assert our right to land on the island. He failed to highlight the fact that a dispute persists. Instead he unilaterally "shelved disputes," and gushed about "joint development." By doing so, he relinquished our rights to the "exclusive economic zone." Did the Taiwan side in fact promise not to land on the island? If it did, then it relinquished its claims to territorial sovereignty. Japan meanwhile, obtained enormous substantive benefits. Naturally Japan was willing to make a few minor concessions. Outside the Taiwan side's temporary line of jurisdiction, it "sacrificed" the fishing rights of Ryukyu fishermen. In short, Japan conceded nothing more than the "right to use," which it can take back at any time. In exchange it received a transfer of sovereignty from the Taiwan side.
This concession by our side, may be very difficult to undo. Article V of the agreement states that the two sides may unilaterally repudiate the agreement within six months. On the surface this is consistent with international fisheries agreements precedents. In fact, as everyone knows, these provisions constitute a greater threat to the Taiwan side than the Japanese side. On the issue of Diaoyutai, the Ma administration kowtows to U.S. demands. It refuses to cooperate with Mainland China. As a result, it can only rely on the "goodwill" of Japan. Japan can use this provision to demand that Taiwan cease disputing sovereignty. For example, it can demand that people from Taiwan desist from landing on the island, and law enforcement vessels from Taiwan desist from entering "Japan's territorial waters." Otherwise, it can rescind Taiwan's fishing rights at any time. These "fishing rights" are nothing more than sugar-coated poison pills. Taiwan has essentially relinquished its sovereignty over the Diaoyutai Islands. Japan on the other hand, can rescind its fishing rights at any time.
The Ma administration aggressively negotiated fisheries agreements with Japan. It purportedly "fought for the interests of Taiwan fishermen." But it had a hidden agenda. Recently Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Shih Ting said the ultimate goal of the "East China Sea Peace Initiative" is make the transition from "three separate bilateral dialogues," to "unified trilateral consultations between Beijing, Tokyo, and Taipei." In other words, the Ma administration's approach remains the same as Lee Teng-hui's, to internationalize cross-Strait relations. This Taipei-Tokyo Fisheries Agreement, which is suspected of "trading away sovereignty for fishing rights," is the first step. Does Ma Ying-jeou intend to sacrifice cross-Strait relations for the sake of this peace agreement? Does he intend to forfeit sovereignty and humiliate the nation in his opportunistic quest for short-term advantage? If the answer to these questions is yes, then he will undermine Mainland confidence in the Kuomintang, and seriously undermine his stature in the history books.
In short, "shelving disputes" on the Diaoyutai Islands controversy has a precondition. One must uphold territorial sovereignty. Only by doing so can one force Japan to recognize that a dispute persists. On November 5 last year, this paper published an editorial. We observed that Japan denies the existence of any sovereignty disputes. Yet our side prattles on about "shelving disputes," about "consultations," and about "joint development," including "fishing rights negotiations." Our side is essentially selling out the territorial sovereignty of the Republic of China, for nothing more than superficial, temporary, fishing rights without assurances. In addition to forfeiting sovereignty over the Diaoyutai Islands in perpetuity, we could well lose any fishing rights as well. The real beneficiary of these "fishing rights" negotiations is Japan, which has taken advantage of internal strife within China for over a century. For Taiwanese fishermen, for the Kuomintang government, and for the Chinese people as a whole, the fisheries agreement is a raw deal.