Taiwan, Japan hold dialogue on maritime affairs

The first ever dialogue between Taiwan and Japan on maritime affairs was held in Tokyo on Monday, with delegations from the two countries set to discuss issues of mutual concern including fishing near the Japan-held Okinotori atoll in the Pacific Ocean.

The dialogue began with a hand-shake between Chiou I-jen (邱義仁), president of Taiwan's Association of East Asian Relations (AEAR) and his Japanese counterpart Ohashi Mitsuo, chairman of the Japan Interchange Association (JIA).

The two organizations were established to handle links between Taiwan and Japan in the absence of full diplomatic relations between the two nations.

Chiou is serving as an adviser to Taiwan's delegation. The delegation, headed by AEAR Secretary General Tsai Ming-yao (蔡明耀), is made up of officials from a number of government agencies, including those involved with fisheries, the coast guard, technology, national security and foreign affairs.

Topics to be discussed include fishing in the area around Okinotori. Taiwan's government has said it will negotiate with Japan on the issue to ensure the rights and safety of Taiwanese fishermen.

Taiwan's Foreign Affairs Minister David Lee (李大維) said last week that issues to be addressed during the one-day dialogue will include fishing disputes, rescue operations at sea and marine scientific research.

The most recent dispute erupted after a Taiwanese fishing boat was detained by Japan on April 25 on the high seas near Okinotori, a 9-square-meter uninhabited Pacific atoll situated 1,600 km east of Taiwan.

The administration of then-President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) lodged a strong protest with Japan after the Japanese authorities refused to release the boat until the owner paid a security deposit of 6 million Japanese yen (US$54,000).

Japan classifies the atoll as an island, which means it is entitled to a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone. Taiwan, maintains that it is not an island because it is unable to sustain human habitation and has accused Japan of carrying out land reclamation to expand the atoll.

After President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) took office in May, the new administration pushed for a Taiwan-Japan dialogue on maritime affairs under the AEAR-JIA framework, in an effort to promote bilateral ties and narrow differences on controversial issues.

Tsai has said that as maritime countries, Taiwan and Japan share common problems and interests about which the two sides should talk. However, as Taiwan's president, her primary concern is to ensure Taiwanese fishermen can make a living in the area in question without fear of being harassed.

As a result, issues concerning maritime resources are to be the top priority during the dialogue, followed by the protection and cultivation of fishery resources, maritime aid, rescue missions and maritime scientific research, Tsai said.