TAIPEI – Japan expressed regret over Taiwan’s decision to dispatch government vessels to patrol Japan’s self-declared exclusive economic zone around tiny Okinotorishima Island, the southernmost point of Japanese territory, Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.
Ministry spokeswoman, Eleanor Wang, said that Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida expressed “feelings of regret” over Taiwan’s decision via the Interchange Association, Tokyo’s de facto mission in Taiwan. The association acts as a negotiator for Taiwan and Japan because the countries do not have formal diplomatic ties.
“They said they do not want to see the matter undermine bilateral ties,” Wang said. “They also promised to continue strengthening communications with us about the matter.”
Wang said the ministry hoped to work out an arrangement acceptable to both sides through peaceful means.
Until then, Wang said she hoped both sides will exercise self-control and urged Tokyo to refrain from detaining Taiwanese fishermen in the area as a gesture of goodwill.
Taiwan sent an armed 2,000-ton coast guard vessel and a fishing training ship from the Council of Agriculture on Sunday to protect Taiwanese boats conducting fishing activities in Japan’s asserted EEZ. Much of the zone is based on Okinotorishima, a tiny, mostly submerged atoll some 1,700 km south of Tokyo that is barely visible at high tide.
The move came after a Taiwanese fishing boat was detained by the Japan Coast Guard on April 24 for allegedly fishing illegally in the zone. The boat and its crew were released Thursday after a ¥6 million fine was paid to Japan.
Following the incident, outgoing President Ma Ying-jeou chaired two National Security Council meetings and ordered government agencies to act.
Declaring that Japan’s self-declared EEZ violates the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, Ma argued that Okinotorishima fails to meet the criteria for claiming an exclusive economic zone.
He also instructed all government agencies to refer to the two tiny outcroppings as “rocks,” rather than an island, because its land features “cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own.”
That distinction would disqualify Japan from claiming a 200-nautical-mile EEZ around Okinotori under the 1982 convention.
Ma ordered the Taiwan Coast Guard and the Council of Agriculture to map out concrete plans on how to protect Taiwanese fishing boats in the area so they can conduct fishing activities.
The outgoing president also instructed the Foreign Ministry and Taiwan’s representative office in Japan to convey the Taiwanese government’s position to the Japanese, and asked the ministry to study the possibility of seeking a resolution to the issue “through alternative international means.”