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New government's stance on Okinotori questioned

New government's stance on Okinotori questioned

The new government's changing course on the status of the Okinotori atoll in the Western Pacific has been questioned by the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) and within the ruling Democratic Progressive Party itself.

The Executive Yuan said Tuesday that it will "respect" the ruling of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) under the United Nations on the legal status of the atoll in the Western Pacific.

"Before the unveiling of the ruling, the government has no specific stance on it legally," Cabinet spokesman Tung Chen-yuan said.

The previous KMT administration, which left office on May 20, asserted that under international law Okinotori is a tiny atoll not fit for human habitation rather than an island that generates a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.

Former president Ma Ying-jeou's administration instructed that all official documents refer to Okinotori as an atoll, but the news release issued by the new Executive Yuan calls it simply "Okinotori."

Japan refers to it as "Okinotorishima," meaning Okinotori Island.

Chou Chih-wei, director of the KMT's Culture and Communications Committee, noted that Japan had already requested the CLCS to confirm the status of Okinotori as an island, but the CLCS rejected the claim in 2012.

Chou said the new government under President Tsai Ing-wen should steadfastly uphold the national interest and "should have its own stance."

He questioned whether a secret deal was reached with Nobuo Kishi, a Japanese parliamentarian and a younger brother of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, when Kishi visited Tsai in Taiwan earlier this month.

Reports have said that Kishi and soon-to-be members of government in Taiwan reached a consensus on disputes over Okinotori.

DPP Legislator Huang Wei-cher said the Tsai government had changed course on the issue too quickly, and urged it to not shift its stance simply to maintain cordial relations with Japan.

Another DPP lawmaker, Tuan Yi-kang, said Okinotori is certainly an atoll, and if the Executive Yuan wanted to change course, it would have to bear the consequences itself.

DPP Legislator Wellington Ku came to the defense of the new government, however, saying it was putting aside disputes and ensuring the rights of Taiwanese fishermen through talks with Japan.

Huang Kuo-chang, a lawmaker with the New Power Party, said the new government will have to explain why it said it would respect the decision of the CLCS on the status of Okinotori, but his party's stance is clear that Okinotori is an atoll and not an island.

Under international law, reefs and atolls generate at most 12-nautical miles of territorial waters and in some cases none at all.

The Ma government argued that Okinotori, which has structures built by the Japanese, should be entitled to no more than a 500-meter safety zone allowed for artificial islands and installations.