TAIPEI – Taiwanese authorities said Monday that bilateral negotiations over Japan’s seizure of a Taiwanese fishing boat off tiny Okinotorishima Island will begin soon.
The trawler and its crew were detained by the Japan Coast Guard for fishing in Japan’s self-declared exclusive economic zone based on the atoll, which is barely visible at high tide but represents the southernmost point of Japanese territory.
Deputy Foreign Minister Javier Hou told a legislative committee session that in addition to protesting, his ministry hopes both sides will be able to resolve the issue through peaceful means.
“We hope rational dialogue will lead to a resolution that both sides find satisfactory,” he said, adding that Japan is not against addressing the issue through bilateral talks.
Hou said that the ministry’s short-term goal is to reclaim the ¥6 million ($56,000) fine paid to the Japanese side and that its long-term goal is to sign a bilateral fisheries agreement.
The Japan Coast Guard found the boat, identified as the Dong Sheng Ji No. 16, fishing around 150 nautical miles east-southeast of the far-flung pair of rocky protrusions about two weeks ago.
Coast guard officers subsequently boarded the boat and detained its crew.
The boat and its crew were released a few days later following negotiations that led to the payment of the fine to Japan.
Following the incident, outgoing Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou ordered government agencies to act and instructed them to refer to Okinotorishima 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 entitlement to the 200-nautical-mile EEZ it declared around Okinotorishima under the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Ma also told the Foreign Ministry to convey his administration’s position to the Japanese government and its hope to negotiate a solution to the problem, preferably by signing a fisheries pact.
Taiwan’s coast guard also sent a 2,000-ton vessel and a 3,000-ton cutter, while the Council of Agriculture dispatched a fishing training ship to protect Taiwanese fishing boats conducting fishing the disputed EEZ.
However, as President-elect Tsai Ing-wen, whose Democratic Progressive Party defeated Ma’s Kuomintang party in January’s presidential and legislative elections, will take the oath of office on May 20, it remains to be seen whether the measures the Ma administration adopted will continue.
KMT legislator Hsu Chih-jung asked the Foreign Ministry to help reclaim the ¥6 million and demand an apology from the Japanese government.
“We must show them we are angry so they will be willing to sit down and talk,” he said.
Hou said that the ministry asked the Japanese government to return the fine but that the demand for an apology was never on the agenda.
But a Foreign Ministry official told Kyodo News that the odds of getting the money back were slim because Japanese authorities merely acted in accordance with Japanese laws.
Okinotorishima is about 1,700 km south of Tokyo.