Patrols in disputed waters hinge on actual need: spokesman

Patrols in disputed waters hinge on actual need: spokesman

Taiwan's new government hopes to use dialogue with Japan to address the rights of Taiwanese fishermen in disputed waters in the Pacific, and future patrols in those areas will depend on need, Cabinet spokesman Tung Chen-yuan said Tuesday.

Tung said sitting down with Japan for talks will be the best and most peaceful way to protect the rights of Taiwanese fishermen, a day after he said the two countries would set up a dialogue mechanism on maritime affairs cooperation by the end of July.

"Using dialogue to replace clashes and disputes is the principle of the government in handling international affairs, and in the interests of all sides," Tung said.

Taiwan and Japan clashed over the rights of Taiwanese fishermen to operate in waters near the Okinotori atoll in the Western Pacific after a Taiwanese fishing boat, the "Tung Sheng Chi No. 16," was seized on April 25 by the Japan Coast Guard while operating in waters some 150 nautical miles from the atoll.

The boat and its crew were released on April 26 only after the owner paid a 6 million Japanese yen (US$54,442) deposit demanded by Japanese authorities.

Taiwanese Coast Guard vessels and a military ship were then sent to the area to protect the interests of fishermen still operating there on a mission scheduled to last until May 31.

Taiwan's previous government, which stepped down on May 20, argued that Okinotori is a reef and therefore not entitled to anything more than a 500-meter "security zone" around it, meaning that the seized vessel was operating in international waters.

Japan, meanwhile, considers Okinotori an island entitled to a 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

A new government under President Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party, which has traditionally been friendly to Japan, took power on May 20 and has been more conciliatory on the issue.

Tung said the government has the responsibility to ensure the safe operations of Taiwanese fishermen, and patrol missions to protect Taiwan's fishing vessels are continuing.

On whether the patrol mission will continue after May 31, Tung said the government will assess the actual situation, and if Taiwanese fishing boats are not operating there at that time, the patrol ships will not enter the waters.

But he sidestepped the question when asked whether Taiwanese fishermen could operate in waters near the Okinotori atoll before the launch of the dialogue mechanism in July.

Tung replied that the government will arrange for patrol missions according to actual needs.

On whether the patrol vessels will sail within 200 nautical miles of the Okinotori atoll, Tung said it would consider the situation before taking action but insisted the government's protection of fishermen will not be compromised.

Tung said the new government will "respect the decision" of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) of the United Nations on whether Okinotori is an island or a reef. Japan has submitted related documents on the matter to the commission, Tung said.

"The government has no specific stance on it legally before the unveiling of the decision," Tung said.

Kyodo News in Japan reported Monday that Taiwan's new government had informed Japan's foreign ministry that the patrol boats were being withdrawn ahead of schedule, but Taiwan's Coast Guard dismissed the report on Monday, saying patrols would continue until at least May 31 as scheduled.

Updated : 2021-03-08 23:44 GMT+08:00