Patrol deployments to protect fishermen unchanged: Coast Guard head

Patrol deployments to protect fishermen unchanged: Coast Guard head

Taipei, May 25 (CNA) Coast Guard Administration (CGA) Director-General Lee Chung-wei has emphasized the Taiwan government's determination to protect its fishermen, and said that patrol deployments in waters near a Japan-controlled atoll in the West Pacific have not changed.

Lee also guaranteed that Taiwanese patrol ships will remain in the disputed area until after June.

Lee, the first CGA director-general to have a career military background, made the remarks Wednesday while answering questions from reporters about whether patrol ships will still be seen in the waters surrounding the Okinotori atoll after June.

Lee replied "yes," and said that there will be enough forces there to enforce Taiwan's law.

"(We) did not set a deadline for the patrols, but have only adjusted them to match the conditions," he said. He reiterated that there will be no change in the government's determination to protect the safety of fishermen, or any drawing back of the protection mission.

"Here, I solemnly and affirmatively tell the people that the operation to protect our fishermen is continuing," he said.

Asked about a Cabinet statement that it 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, Lee said that CGA is a law-enforcing unit that will fulfill its duty of maintaining security based on national policy.

It is not in charge of negotiation or coordination, Lee said.

Lee was invited to make a briefing on the issue at the Legislative Internal Administration Committee that day, after Kyodo News in Japan reported two days earlier that Taiwan's new government has informed Japan's foreign ministry that the patrol boats were being withdrawn ahead of schedule.

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

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

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

The new government under President Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party, which has traditionally been friendly toward Japan, took power May 20 and has been more conciliatory on the issue. It has expressed the hope of using dialogue with Japan to address the rights of Taiwanese fishermen in the disputed waters.

The new government's stance and the latest Japanese media reports on the issue have raised concern among some lawmakers about possible concessions by Taiwan.

Asked by Kuomintang lawmaker Huang Chao-chun in Wednesday's committee hearing if fishing boats can operate within 200 nautical miles of the Oknotori atoll, Lee said it is the CGA's duty to protect the safety of fishermen, and he gave a guarantee that they can operate there.

"I can affirmatively say that I will definitely be responsible for their safety," Lee said. (By Chen Chun-hua and Elizabeth Hsu)

Updated : 2021-03-06 23:35 GMT+08:00