Taiwan Fishermen Must Not Be Sacrificed to Curry Favor with Japan
China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
July 26, 2016
Executive Summary: The Tsai regime's attitude toward maritime cooperation and dialogue with Japan is highly ambivalent. It may even ignore the interests of Taiwan fishermen during negotiations. One cannot help wondering whether it intends to sell out Taiwan's fishermen in exchange for certain strategic interests, real or imaginary. Taiwan and Japan have had a channel for maritime dialogue since the Ma administration. It was originally intended to deal with fishing rights disputes caused by overlapping Exclusive Economic Zones. Taiwan and Japan were able to reach an agreement on fishing rights in waters surrounding the Diaoyutai Islands. They ought to deal with fishing rights around Cong Zhi Niao Reef the same way. But the Tsai regime has already left fishing rights out of the first round of negotiations. It did this without even consulting Taiwan fishermen. One has to wonder. Does the Tsai regime even care about the rights of Taiwan's fishermen?
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The Tsai regime's attitude toward maritime cooperation and dialogue with Japan is highly ambivalent. It may even ignore the interests of Taiwan fishermen during negotiations. One cannot help wondering whether it intends to sell out Taiwan's fishermen in exchange for certain strategic interests, real or imaginary. Taiwan and Japan have had a channel for maritime dialogue since the Ma administration. It was originally intended to deal with fishing rights disputes caused by overlapping Exclusive Economic Zones. Taiwan and Japan were able to reach an agreement on fishing rights in waters surrounding the Diaoyutai Islands. They ought to deal with fishing rights around Cong Zhi Niao Reef the same way. But the Tsai regime has already left fishing rights out of the first round of negotiations. It did this without even consulting Taiwan fishermen. One has to wonder. Does the Tsai regime even care about the rights of Taiwan's fishermen?
Taiwan fishermen have the right to fish in waters surrounding Cong Zhi Niao Reef, since it is merely a reef, and not an island. Reefs lack Exclusive Economic Zones. Taiwan fishermen are naturally entitled to fish in the area. The South China Sea “ruling” on what constitutes an island and what constitutes a reef defined Cong Zhi Niao Reef as a reef, and not an island. Taiwan has objected to the proposterous classification of Taiping Island as a reef. Nevertheless according to the “ruling”, Cong Zhi Niao Reef is not an island. This is an embarrassment for Japan. On the one hand, Japan is demanding that Mainland China comply with the “ruling”. On the other hand, Japan refuses to comply with the “ruling” as it applies to Cong Zhi Niao Reef. That explains why Japan has remained silent on this issue. It has no desire to draw attention to the fact that Cong Zhi Niao Reef is merely a reef. Taiwan must of course argue its case as vigorously as possible. It must flatly reject Japan's claims regarding Cong Zhi Niao Reef. Sadly, the new regime's political agenda is seriously muddled. It is reluctant to publicly repudiate Japan's claims, because it is terrified of offending Japan. It is also concerned about a domestic backlash. It is afraid it will not be able to pacify Taiwan fishermen. Hence the bizarre situation noted above. On the whole however, the Tsai regime prefers to appease Japan, then maintain as low a profile as it can on the issue.
Since the new regime took office, it has cozied up to the US and Japan, and distanced itself from the Mainland. This is no secret. For the Tsai regime , friendly relations with Japan is of important strategic value. From this perspective, one might argue that the new regime's approach is “logical”. We understand the logic. That does not mean we agree with the logic. Still less does it mean we accept its negative consequences, particularly the harm inflicted upon Taiwan fishermen. The Japanese position on Cong Zhi Niao Reef is obviously pure sophistry and selective enforcement of the law. It refuses to apply the law consistently, but only selectively, when it is to its selfish advantage. The recent Dong Sheng Chi 16 incident is typical. The Japanese have the Tsai regime's number. They know the Tsai regime is terrified of giving offense to Japan. That is why the Japanese are being so tough on Tsai.
Must Taiwan unilaterally cave every time it negotiates with Japan? Or can it consider Taiwan's best interests vis a vis the strategic situation in East Asia? In fact, sound relations with Japan do not require automatically caving in to Japan's demands. International relations have always been a matter of quid pro quo exchanges. Taiwan is hardly the only party that wants something. Taiwan and Japan each want something from the other. Japan regularly sends warships into waters surrounding Cong Zhi Niao Reef. Why? Because it knows full well its claim to an Exclusive Economic Zone is cannot withstand scrutiny. The South China Sea “ruling” is lethal to Japan's claims. The Tsai regime can easily claim that Japan has no right to prevent Taiwan fishing vessels from fishing in waters near Cong Zhi Niao Reef. It can do so in exchange for its silence on Japan's spurious claims to an Exclusive Economic Zone. It need not cave in before negotiations have even begun. This of course can be interpreted as a gesture of goodwill towards the Japanese. But if such gestures of goodwill fail to win concessions from Japan, the Tsai regime must get tough. It must ensure that the Japanese understand Taiwan's concerns. It must make reference to Japan's spurious claims regarding Cong Zhi Niao Reef.
The Tsai regime's policy toward Japan must be reexamined. Taiwan has close trade and people to people relations with Japan. Sound relations with Japan are of course conducive to Taiwan's economic growth. The Tsai regime assumes that Taiwan's membership in an anti-Mainland axis will win Japanese support for Taiwan, and enable it to resist pressure from the Mainland. But if this is achieved at the expense of the fundamental rights of the people of Taiwan, then it becomes a highly questionable proposition.
During the Ma administration the two sides had no need to compete with each other in the international arena. This enabled the Ma administration to remain tough in the face of Japanese pressure. In order to accommodate Taiwan, Japan had to grant concessions. This enabled the Ma administration to win many concessions for Taiwan fishermen. The Tsai regime's actions show that it lacks this ability.
Cross-Strait friction within the Chinese nation is clearly the result of Tsai regime provocation. As we can see, cross-strait relations affects more than cross-Strait exchanges. It also affects Taiwan's interaction with other governments. The Tsai regime must acknowledge the importance of cross-Strait relations. It must not see the Mainland only as an opponent. It must change its policy towards Japan. Relations between Taiwan and Japan must be equal and mutually beneficial. Only then can the people of Taiwan fully enjoy their rights.