A positive step in Senkaku dispute

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.

  • justice_first

    This accord is basically “illegal” under international law. Any agreement involving fishing rights of a “sovereign territory” has to be negotiated between two nations, not between Japan and Taiwan ( which is a part of China). There is clearly a “procedural” problem, and a violation of China’s sovereignty in the islands.

    The key point is: Taiwan is not a “sovereign nation” as recognized under international law and by the UN. This will make the accord unenforceable, and illegal. It could only be looked upon as a petty trick played by Japan to pacify the fishermen of Taiwan, and to reduce the intensity of the dispute taking place. If the accord is not “ratified” by China, there is no accord.

    It is also “very important” to know who the parties are to the accord, which is a critical step to any legitimate “international agreement” to be lawful.

    China’s position on the islands is unchanged. There is no substantial change to the nature of the dispute which Japan may not even accept that there is any. If ever the case should go to the ICJ, this accord will not work in Japan’s favor.

    The fact that Japan has no “legitimate” administrative rights to the islands is still going t be a major obstacle to this accord. This will only complicate the relation with China in the future, and will not help in the resolution of the dispute.

    • Masa Chekov

      Taiwan isn’t a part of China – only China thinks Taiwan is a part of China. For the rest of the world, the issue of Taiwan is not at all settled, so please do not act as if it is.

      Currently some 25 nations recognize Taiwan as a sovereign nation, and many others such as the US have extensive relations with Taiwan yet do not formally recognize them. We all know that this number would be much higher were it not for the bullying of the PRC such that countries cannot have formal relations with both the ROC and the PRC. In that case of course the deep pockets of the PRC generally win out.

      Japan does have administrative rights over the Senkakus (despite the bleating of the PRC) so can feel free to make agreements with other governments regarding the use of the waters surrounding those islands.

      • justice_first

        In the Treaty of Shimonoseki of 1895, China (Qing government) ceded Taiwan to Japan. This treaty was nullified in 1945 by the instrument of surrender of Japan, and Taiwan ( and its islands) were handed back to China ( the ROC government) in 1945. The PRC (established in 1949) succeeded the ROC in the UN in 1972 as the sole representative of China.

        It is “evidently” clear that Japan considered Taiwan part of China.

        The US considers Taiwan part of China despite the unofficial relationship. It broke diplomatic relation with the ROC and recognised the PRC in 1972 as the sole representative government of China.

        Of course “Taiwan” is never a sovereign nation “by itself” unless it declares independence.

        The US may say Japan has administrative rights to the islands on basis of the San Francisco Treaty of 1971. However China does not recognize the treaty because it is not a “signing party”. China is not bound by the treaty. This is of course the nature of the dispute going on between China and Japan.

        For Japan to make an “official” agreement with the “ROC” is a direct violation of its diplomatic recognization of China in 1972, a direct violation of the one China policy of China, a new provocation by Japan. Japan’s credibility will suffer in the eyes of the world.

        This will in fact intensify the dispute between China and Japan.

      • Masa Chekov

        I do love this new Chinese attempt at American-style hegemony. China does not recognize the San Francisco Treaty so it is completely invalid. China has a “One China” policy so it must be the case that others agree with this policy.

        It’s very illuminating.

        It’s quite clear China is not interested in compromise on anything political. The Chinese position is the only correct position. That’s exactly what you are saying here, and this is of course how China acts officially. China wishing it so does not make it so, though. You need to understand this.

        Plenty of countries would recognize Taiwan as independent were in not for Chinese bullying, for example, the US among them. Plenty of countries DID recognize Taiwan as an independent nation until the PRC pressured them not to.

      • justice_first


        even the current “government” in Taiwan, the KMT government, recognizes Taiwan as a “region” of China. They declared this “position” last year to the PRC in person.

        What does this mean? This means the sovereignty of China has not been divided despite the civil war. China is still one entity, even to the Chinese, and of course in the UN.

        China understands the complexity of a civil war and how foreign powers can interfere. China has made it very clear that it will defend it “territorial integrity” with “full force” if need be. There is no compromise, no backing down on this question.

        As for the islands, China is willing to discuss with Japan on how to resolve the issue peacefully.

      • Hanten

        I can see you have a great of passion for this issue and have either done lots of research or heard a lot of so-called facts. Perhaps you can’t see that they are just a few tiny specks of land. You, and a lot of other people, are piling all this sentiment onto them without seeming to question what you’ve been told by China, or the PRC as you say. Perhaps you could ask yourself why the PRC is so keen to get them back? What does the PRC want to distract you from? Indeed, why is Japan putting so much effort to retain them and then offering fishing rights to Taiwan?
        You call yourself “justice_first” but for whom do you want justice?

      • justice_first


        It is a matter of principle that I would argue the case for China. History provides the facts, not the PRC, nor the ROC, and of course not Japan. When a country was defeated, there are certain “obligations” that it “has to” fulfill.

      • Ken5745

        Hanten, there are four reasons why the PRC is keen to get the disputed islands back :

        1 Japan’s Surrender Instrument stated that Japan will carry out the terms of the Potsdam Declaration.

        2 At the ‘signing of the Joint Communique’ by China’s Deng XiaoPing and Japan’s Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka in Sept 1972 to normalize relations Japan also agreed to carry out the Potsdam Declaration in good faith,ie to return all islands taken from China by ‘violence or greed’, which was the case with the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands and Taiwan plus the Pescadores. After the war, Taiwan and the Pescadores were given back to China but the US gave its ally Japan,the administration (but no sovereignty) of the disputed islands, violating the Potsdam Declaration.

        3 Despite the above treaties and the handing of the disputed islands for Japan’s administration (No sovereignty) by the US, Deng and Tanaka agreed to postpone the decision of the disputed islands to the future generation of China and Japan to decide.

        4 The UN survey team found valuable oil resources in the waters surrounding the disputed islands.

        Remarks :

        If Japan had not reneged on the agreement between Deng and Tanaka, and had not proceeded with the nationalization of the disputed islands in Sept 2012, there will be no crisis on the disputed islands today as China and Japan have agreed to let future generation of both nations to decide on the matter, with a good chance for joint development for mutual benefits.

        But Japan breached the status quo, so all bets are off and China has no choice but to invoke the terms of the two said treaties in order to stop Japan from taking over the disputed islands on its own.

        These are the facts.

      • justice_first

        very well, cogently said and explained

      • Luke Long

        Oh…thats funny. We must turn back history then. Because for several years since it became clear that there was money in the sees around the disputed Islands, China has been sending boatloads over to stir up trouble and put greed before peaceful lawful resolution. All of this was well before 2012.

      • Nelson Opshonal

        It is convenient then to call on international law, or whatever “facts” there may be when it favors China, however, when the Philippines, Vietnam and Japan called on China to bring its territorial claims to the UN Convention on the Laws of the Seas, China declares “there is no contest” and calls on historical rhetorics. You mentioned too that China does not recognize the San Francisoc Treaty of 1971 because it is not a signing party, well, why would the world recognize China’s policy when no other nation signed into that policy?

        As a layman, what is obvious to me is that ever since China’s economy grew, so did its military strength -and a new Asian bully in the block emerges. The territories being claimed by China in the South-East are in fact within the Philippines’ EEZ, and yes, The Philippines, Borneo and Vietnam have declared independaence and are sovereign nations.

      • justice_first


        In the case of the Philippines, you have to know that the court for the UN Convention on the “laws of the seas” is not the right venue for settling “sovereignty” issues.

      • Ken5745

        Nelson, let’s not mix fiction with facts.

        Though Japan proposed to the Sth Koreans to take the Takashima/Dokdo island dispute to the ICJ, Japan refused China’s request to take the case of the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands dispute to the UN. Get your facts right.

        In the Vietnam case, the prime minister Pham Van Dong of Nth Vietnam wrote to China and said they had no geographical or historical claims over the Paracel island.

        But when Mr Pham became the PM of a unified Vietnam he changed his mind.

        In the Philippines’ case, going to the UNCLOS will be pointless because it has no mandate to determine who has sovereignty over the Scarborough shoals.

        If the shoals do not belong to the Phillippines then the EEZ of the shoals with be the mid-point between the shoals and the closest Philippine island.

      • justice_first

        Japan is no longer administering the islands alone because China is also administering them. The waters are contested territories. This is factual.

        It is “inappropriate” for Japan to assign “unilaterally” waters that are contested to any party. The issue of the islands is still unsettled, not Taiwan.

        The core issue is still the islands, not Taiwan. Japan is only trying to divert attention to Taiwan by bullying a much weaker Taiwan. This is obvious to the world. It is quite appropriate for China and Japan to sit down and negotiate a solution rather than to bully Taiwan. Taiwan is in no positon to resist Japan, and that is why the fishing talks were unsuccessful for the last 17 years. Japan is clearly playing a card.

      • Masa Chekov

        The islands are most certainly not jointly administered. They are Japanese. Only China does not see this. China making noisy proclamations, sending their citizens to riot at Japanese businesses, and sending flotillas of fishing vessels to the area does nothing to change this fact. China does not become an administrator of the Senkakus by declaring themselves one.

        We all know that China considers all of the Ryukyus as part of China. China’s next step in their argument for the Senkakus is for Okinawa to become part of China. Please don’t waste my time or yours by disputing this; I have read the postings by Chinese sources on this matter. The same sort of justifications that are currently used for Chinese rights in in the Senkakus are also used for Okinawa. They are just as incorrect.

        If the Senkakus and all of the Ryukyus were ever Chinese (which is not obviously the case) it was before 1895, which is essentially meaningless now.

      • justice_first

        Okinawa, the previous Ryukyu Kingdom, was a separate kingdom from Japan. It was the first country Japan occupied in its “colonial expansion” in 1870’s. The second country was Korea, then China…then many countries in South East Asia. Now there are still unsettled island disputes with China, Korea and Russia (all from the second world war). I am sure many in the “new” generations in Japan were not adequately informed of the war. This will cause continued conflict with its neighbors, sadly.

        Okinawa was not China proper, but a separate independent country, a “tributary” state to China for centuries. This is why China is interested in the Ryukyu.

        As for the islands, there is a lot of history to support China’s claim. China is willing to sit down with Japan to discuss and resolve the matter peacefully. It is not sufficient to say “the US gave them to us”, because the US has no right to give away Chinese territories to any other country. Instead of fighting over them, China prefers to negotiate for a peaceful solution. The rest is up to Japan.

      • Masa Chekov

        “I am sure many in the “new” generations in Japan were not adequately informed of the war.”

        No, this is no more true about Japan than it is about young people in the US, or England, or anywhere else. Except China – I suspect Chinese young people are considerably less informed than they should be about China’s past due to Chinese media restrictions. Even the relatively recent Tiananmen Square massacre is off limits, so how could young Chinese expect to be properly informed about their history?

        The history of the Senkakus is irrelevant before 1875, as far as I am concerned. Things change, lots of places were once part of somewhere else. The important part is that the Senkakus are now Japanese. Frankly, discussing what China may or may not have possessed in 1865 or 1642 is not important at all now – it’s not the same China as now.

        I suspect China would take a similar viewpoint on formerly independent Tibet.

      • Takayuki

        If the Diaoyus are ‘simply’ Japanese, end of story, then you must realize that they gained these islands by conquest in 1895. So, by that measure, Japan should be satisfied if someone takes them back by conquest, and then declares them theirs, end of story, right?

      • Masa Chekov

        No – history flows one way. We obviously can’t change the past, only the present.

        If we were talking about events of 1995 or 1985, sure, but not 1895. Different Japan, different China, different world.

      • justice_first

        South Korea is today is because of the fact that it was reverted to its pre 1895 status. It was because of the “post world war 2” order on Japan from 1945. Otherwise South Korea would be still under Japan. The key hear is valid international treaties, not even maps, because maps can be fabricated or simply incorrect.

        All sovereignty matters must be decided by either “conquest” as another gentleman has mentioned, or by valid treaties between nations. From those treaties, we can determine valid international borders and ownership of territories.

      • Ken5745

        Masa, The problem with this flawed sentiment of yours is that you have ignored the fact that Japan, on its own volition, signed two international treaties to honor the terms of the Potsdam Declaration and by extension also the Cairo Declaration.

        These were the 1945 Surrender Instrument and the 1972 Joint Communique signed in Beijing.

        You need to read up on these two treaties before making up history as you go along. Nice try.

      • justice_first

        The problem is the islands are not Japanese today.

        Why ? This is because all “conquered territories” were reverted to their pre 1895 status at the end of the second world war. This is why history before 1895 is relevant.

        You are right. Things change. After the war, Japan’s sovereignty was reduced to the four main islands of Japan. The post war order is still relevant today. The Treaty of San Francisco is not a valid “international” treaty to change the terms of surrender because both China and Russia were not signing parties.

        Even today, the US does not recognize Japan’s ownership of the islands.

      • justice_first

        No country is the same forever. Each country evolves in history, but that doesn’t mean that history is no longer relevant. Without history we have no past, we have no future.

        Our future depends on our recognizing the past.

        Japan today is not the same Japan in the colonial era. If your logic stands, whatever Japan might have possessed in 1895 is also irrelevant today. We all have to trace back what happened, in order to understand today.

        The right wing government may like the young generations to forget about the past, particularly the defeat and surrender in the second world war. This is wrong. The people of Japan should be honest and courageous enough to face the truth about their past, and be able to learn from history. This is the only way to become a “respected” leader in the 21st century. Abe’s way is the wrong way.

      • Luke Long

        Okinawa has been administered by Japan at various levels continuously since the 6th Century. To avoid being invaded, the Okinawans did however pay additional tribute to the Qing Empire for a couple of centuries but never ceased their ties to the Japanese main islands throughout that time. A feeble attempt to use history to justify colonial expansion by the Chinese, but the Chinese government needs nationalistic distractions to divert its citizens from disharmony in its own country. Ken is obviously driven by this nationalistic expansionism.

      • justice_first

        yes, the Ryukyu Kingdom used to be a Kingdom by itself. China for centuries, conferred the title to its Kings. This is well known historic fact.

        You are totally wrong, sorry, in saying that China is attempting a colonial expansion. If the dispute was provoked by Ishihara and then the Japanese government in buying the islands, there is no evidence that China wants any conflict. This is why Abe is wrong in his “deeply ingrained” comment. China is not interested in conflict, and more interested in economic relations with all its neighbors. Korea is one doing very well with China.

        Furthermore, I just want to mention, the US pivot to Asia is actually causing all the conflicts to surface between China and some neighbors. Japan for one is emboldened by the pivot to challenge China, resulting in nationalism in “both” countries. It is essential to know which is the cause and which is the effect.

      • justice_first


        You are a good and effective writer.

        However “sending” citizens to riot at Japanese businesses, “sending” flotillas of fishing vessels to the sea…, are not nearly as “devastating” as sending armies into China to destroy, to slaughter, and to occupy a large area of “China proper”, resulting in more than 30m military and civilian casualty.

        In this world, there is something called justice. That is why Japan was defeated in 1945. This part of history is essentially still relevant today, because the US is still “occupying” Okinawa. The story of Okinawa is certainly a different one. What we know clearly today is that the islands are not part of Okinawa.

      • Ken5745

        Not true. China never considered the Ryukyus or Liuchiu islands as Chinese territory but only as a tributary state.

        Liuchiu’s Kings were appointed with the approval of China’s envoys who sailed to the Liuchiu from Xiamen for the investiture and once they sailed passed the Diaoyu islands, the seas turned from blue to black .

        That location was recognized as the end of the Chinese continental shelf and Chinese boundary and the start of the Liuchiu’s territory but they never claimed the Liuchiu as China’s territory.

        Japan invaded the Liuchiu islands and annexed them.

        The Diaoyu/Senkaku islands belonged to China since the Ming dynasty and were annexed by Japan in early 1895 during the First Sino Japanese war. These are facts.

      • Luke Long

        masa…you have understated the extent of the problem. The new Chinese Colonial Empire is not only targeting Okinawa, but “unoffical” comments in state media and by Generals in recent years have also claimed the Philippines in its entirety (due to ancient maps), Eastern Siberia, and Vietnam (good luck with that one!). That is not to mention Xinjiang and Tibet. Oh, and North Korea (some exetending the claims to South Korea).

        All we are seeing is the same nationalistic empire-building rhetoric that we saw from Japan a century ago. China – the new rising sun.

      • Ken5745

        It is not true to say that “Taiwan isn’t a part of China” because in the ‘Three Communiques’ signed by pres Nixon in Beijing in Feb 1972, the United States recognizes that there is but only one China and that Taiwan is part of China.

        Also in the ‘Joint Communique’ signed by Japan’s Prime Minister Tanaka in Sept 1972 to normalize relations with China, Japan stated that it respects and understands that there is one China and that Taiwan is part of China.

        In addition, Japan also promised to carry out the obligations under the Potsdam Declaration in good faith, which called for all islands taken from China by “violence and greed” to be returned to China.

        The Diaoyu islands were annexed by Japan in early 1895 during the First Sino-Japan war and were named the Senkaku Islands in 1900, after the Pinnacle Islands, the English name for the Diaoyu Islands. The name Diaoyu (meaning ‘fishing’) existed since the Ming Dynasty.

        In May 1972 the US handed the Administration of the islands to Japan but with no sovereignty.

        In the Sept 1972 meeting between Deng XiaoPing and Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka, they agreed to postpone the decision on the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku to the future generation to decide.

        Japan’s nationalization of the islands in Sept 2012 (Which was not approved by the US) therefore violated the status quo.

        To make it worst now Japan has signed an agreement with Taiwan on fishing rights but Taiwan is not a sovereign state, nor a member of the United Nations.

        It’s time for Japan to honor its 1945 Surrender Instrument and Joint Communique signed with China in Sept 1972, in both of which, Japan promised to carry out the terms of the Potsdam Declaration (by extension also the Cairo Declaration) in good faith.

      • Masa Chekov

        Ken – you must understand that there is more than one way to look at an issue. Many countries recognize Taiwan as an independent nation. Many more would were it not for PRC threats. The US, at least, would be among them, but Nixon realized the value of diplomatic relations with the PRC.

        “Japan’s nationalization of the islands in Sept 2012 (Which was not approved by the US) therefore violated the status quo.”

        Two things: one, Japan doesn’t need US approval for its actions regarding anything, let alone for the Senkakus. Japan is a sovereign nation and has been so for a long time. Two, of course nationalization “violated the status quo”. There’s no crime in this. Had Kasumigaseki not nationalized the Senkakus the Tokyo metropolitan government would have. Regardless nothing really changed – Japan administered them before 2012 and continues to administer them.

      • Ken5745

        Don’t be delusional. if Taiwan is an independent nation it will be a member of the United Nations.

        No matter how you wish to slice the enchilada no one cannot deny two international treaties that say Taiwan is part of China unless he is intellectually handicapped and can’t read.

        True Japan is a sovereign state but if it wants the US’s defense umbrella it had better not insult Uncle Sam, who says that Japan does not have sovereignty over the disputed islands.

        IMHO, it’s better to let future generations in China and Japan to decide on the future of the disputed islands and to share their resources, instead of going to war over them. War is pointless.

      • justice_first

        you have a number of fundamental misunderstandings:
        1. Japan is not “totally” independent of the US. Remember Okinawa ?
        2. The nationalization is a direct provocation to China. China is forced to send ships into the 12 miles limits of the islands.
        3. China and Japan are “jointly” present in the waters of the islands. Japan’s effective control is no longer there.
        4. Taiwan is not a sovereign nation unless it declare independent from China.

        The above are undeniable facts.

      • justice_first

        All it matters to China is the US, not Japan.

        The US recognizes Taiwan as part of China despite the interference in Taiwan’s affair. Furthermore China considers Taiwan a part of China. These two “realities” are the “most” important in the 21st century. Of course Europe and Russia recognize Taiwan as part of China, as with most of Africa.

        All the small and insignificant countries, whether they recognize or not recognize is not important. They could even recognize Hawaii not part of the US, and that would make no big difference.

        Don’t try to waste your time on Taiwan because it is not that important today. It is more important to find a way out of the conflict between China and Japan based on a peaceful and mutually beneficial platform.

      • Masa Chekov

        justice_first, that’s the wisest comment of all of them here. It’s in both China and Japan’s best interests to find a way through this. I think they will.

      • justice_first

        Masa, I agree with your “optimism” that both sides will find a way for their own best interests.
        War is not the only solution.

  • justice_first

    I would complement the Japan Times because it is a fair publication frequently reflecting views that are balanced and objective in nature.

    I like to read its articles and news, and I appreciate all those people working in this wonderful and outstanding organization.

    • Ken5745

      That makes two of us. It is refreshing to read unbiased Editorials in The Japan Times.

      • justice_first

        good job done.