Japan and Taiwan on Wednesday signed an agreement on fishing rights in the sea near the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, claimed by both China and Taiwan. The agreement sets aside the sovereignty issue over the Senkakus and allows Taiwanese trawlers to operate in part of Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
It is our hope that Japan and Taiwan will successfully manage fishing operations in accordance with the accord so that it will serve as a model for resolving the dispute between Japan and China over the islands.
Taiwan began asserting its claim over the Senkaku Islands around 1970, before China began to do so. The fisheries negotiations between Japan and Taiwan began in 1996 but were suspended in 2009. Meanwhile, Japan and China signed a new fisheries agreement in 1997.
The Japan-China accord, which went into force in 2000, provisionally demarcated a body of water north of the Senkaku Islands where fishing boats from both countries can operate without permission from either country.
Fishermen from the northern part of Taiwan have long been shut out of their traditional fishing grounds near the Senkakus because of the absence of a fishing accord between Taiwan and Japan and because of strict patrolling by Japan. Taiwan called on Japan to settle the fishing issue in view of the difficulties faced by its fishermen. The two sides held preparatory talks in November and March, ahead of the formal talks that took place Wednesday.
Both sides have something to gain from the agreement. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who wisely took the initiative in pushing the talks, apparently wanted to prevent Taiwan and China from forming a joint front against Japan in the Senkaku dispute. The diplomatic breakthrough will also likely boost Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou’s slumping popularity at home.
The body of water covered by the agreement is divided into two areas. In one area, known for its abundant stocks of tuna, Japan and Taiwan will establish a joint committee to set fishing quotas as well as the number of ships that both sides may operate. In the other area, fishing boats from both countries may operate freely.
Okinawan fishermen have expressed concern that they may have trouble with Taiwanese fishermen during fishing operations and that their fishing boats might be driven out of the fishing grounds by throngs of Taiwanese fishing boats. The government should take necessary measures to ensure this doesn’t happen.
Mr. Ma should be praised for refraining from fanning Taiwanese nationalism over the dispute. Taking the high road, he has instead strived to emphasize the common interests shared by Taiwan and Japan. In August 2012, he had proposed an East-China Sea Peace Initiative to push joint development of resources there and to enact a code of conduct.
His attitude and actions should serve as a model for Japan and China to find ways to expand their mutual interests without increasing bilateral tensions. Liberal Democratic Party deputy president Mr. Masahiko Koumura, head of the Japan-China Friendship Parliamentarians’ Union, could play an important diplomatic role when he visits China in early May.