Taiwan Warms to Maritime Negotiations with Japan

File image courtesy social media

By MarEx 2016-05-23 21:03:52

Taiwan's newly elected government has changed tack on maritime disputes with Japan and is opening a new line of bilateral negotiations regarding fishing areas. 

"The new government has decided to resort to negotiation rather than a legal approach in resolving the latest dispute,” said cabinet spokesman Tung Chen-yuan. Tung referred to an incident last month in which Japanese forces seized a Taiwanese fishing boat near Okinotori, a reef claimed by Japan. The Japanese government said that the vessel had violated its 200 nm EEZ. 

The preceding government of Ma Ying-jeou had taken a more confrontational approach to the dispute, threatening the deployment of security forces to guard Taiwanese fishermen in the contested area. Ma declined to recognize Japan's claims to Okinotori's status and an EEZ extending from the geographical feature; he described the outpost as "rocks," not an island, a distinction under UNCLOS which would disallow an EEZ claim. 

Japan contested this view. “Under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, [Okinotori’s] status as an island is established. Japan cannot accept the Taiwanese side’s claims,” Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said. 

Okinotori is considered an atoll by many observers; its dry features include three concrete casings and a 50,000 square foot platform with a research station. Both China and Taiwan have formally disputed its status. 

Taiwan also claims Itu Aba (or Taiping) in the South China Sea, a 2,500 foot airstrip with beaches and a military outpost. Ma Ying-jeou claimed an EEZ based on that island, but China's sweeping "nine-dash line" assertion overlaps Itu Aba. 

A government-affiliated Taiwanese legal organization recently submitted a writ on maritime claims to the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague as part of a case brought by the Philippines. The filing, which asserts Taiwan’s right to the waters surrounding Itu Aba, is expected to delay the court's ruling. Taiwan is not a signatory to UNCLOS, nor is it a member of the United Nations, complicating its status before the court.