Seoul denounced Tokyo’s decision Friday to unilaterally terminate a 1965 fisheries pact following the breakdown of nearly two years of negotiations.In swift response, South Korean Foreign Minister Yoo Chong Ha declared the Japanese decision “unfriendly” and said his country will, in retaliation, immediately suspend voluntary curbs on South Korean fishing vessels operating in waters near Japan.Since 1980, Japan and South Korea have observed voluntary restrictions on fishing operations in waters near Hokkaido and the South Korean island of Cheju-do. South Korean parliamentary committee adopted a resolution protesting Japan’s unilateral move.The resolution was passed at a plenary session of the National Assembly committee on agriculture, forestry, maritime and fisheries with Maritime and Fishery Minister Joh Jung Jay in attendance. It will be endorsed at a special National Assembly session set for Feb. 2.Japan’s Cabinet formally decided Friday morning to unilaterally scrap the treaty, government officials said. The two governments had been trying since May 1996 to work out a new treaty to designate each nations’ new economic waters and avoid a clash over the disputed Takeshima islands.In the latest negotiations, they agreed to shelve the territory issue but were unable to reach agreement over the size of the “provisional fisheries waters,” where fishing ships from both nations would be able to fish under certain restrictions.The region around Takeshima is rich in marine resources. The provisional zone proposed by Japan is larger than all of South Korea, but Seoul is seeking an even larger zone, partly reflecting its claim on the islands.Following the announcement, Chief Cabinet Secretary Kanezo Muraoka, Foreign Minister Keizo Obuchi and other Cabinet ministers raised hopes at separate news conferences that Japan would like to resume efforts soon to sign a new fishing treaty.The current treaty, they stressed, will remain valid for one year after the notification of termination. ‘It is regrettable that the two nations did not succeed in sufficiently narrowing the gaps, in spite of long negotiations that lasted almost two years,” Muraoka told a regularly scheduled news conference. ‘We decided to scrap the current treaty in response to a request from the ruling bloc” to protect the interests of Japanese fisheries workers, Muraoka said.Muraoka added that Japan’s abolition of the treaty should not be interpreted as impairing friendly relations between the two countries. He said the emotional reaction of some Koreans to Japan’s decision would benefit neither country.The Liberal Democratic Party and its two non-Cabinet allies had requested that the government terminate the fishing treaty, which was signed decades before the 1996 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea allowed countries to set 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zones around their shores.Tokyo and Seoul had sought a way to renew the fisheries pact in line with the legislation, but talks were hampered by the dispute over the islets in the Sea of Japan, known as Takeshima in Japan and Tok-do in South Korea. “However,” Muraoka added, “Japan would like to maintain friendly and cooperative relations with South Korea and will continue its efforts to sign a new fishing treaty with the country within the next year.”It is believed that Japan hopes that scrapping the treaty — and thereby putting a one-year deadline into motion — will force South Korea to change its uncompromising stance. The government apparently hopes to make a fresh start in the negotiations after South Korean President-elect Kim Dae Jung takes office Feb. 25.
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