Japan gives priority to Senkakus issue over fishing interests. It will continue to face territorial claims from China and Taiwan, despite having knocked a wedge between them by making concessions to Taipei in a fishing agreement over waters surrounding the disputed Senkaku Islands.
Japan and Taiwan signed the fishing agreement on April 10, sidestepping sovereignty over the Senkakus in the East China Sea. The five uninhabited islands are administered by Japan, but are also claimed by China and Taiwan.
Japan made significant concessions on fishing rights to Taiwan to avoid a two-pronged battle with China and Taiwan over the Senkakus issue. Beijing had called on Taipei to form a united front against Japan on the issue.
A senior Japanese government official said the fishing agreement will keep Taiwan from allying with China. “We will closely work with Taiwan,” the official said April 10 after the agreement was concluded.
“We gained substantial fishing rights, although we did not give an inch over our sovereignty.”
But Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou reiterated that Taiwan will not budge on its claims to the Senkakus. “We gained substantial fishing rights, although we did not give an inch over our sovereignty,” Ma said at a meeting of the ruling Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) on April 10.
Ma’s approval rating has been stagnating. He will suffer a further blow if he is seen as giving way over the sovereignty issue.
Meanwhile, tensions between Japan and China will continue.
Japan put three of the Senkaku Islands under state ownership in September. China has underscored its claims to the Senkakus by sending government vessels to waters around the islands.
“It is the responsibility of (China and Taiwan) to maintain the interest of fishermen on both sides of the strait,” a spokeswoman for the State Council of China‘s Taiwan Affairs Office said April 10, referring to the agreement between Japan and Taiwan.
Jointly managed by Japan and Taiwan
Under the agreement, most of the area that will be jointly overseen by Japan and Taiwan lies south of 27 degrees north latitude, east of the Japan-China median line and northwest of the boundary claimed by Taiwan.
Japan does not allow Taiwanese fishermen to enter its territorial waters around the Senkakus. But under the agreement, they will be allowed to operate in part of waters on the Japanese side of the boundary claimed by Taiwan. The area includes a rich fishing ground north of the Yaeyama Islands, which lie south of the Senkakus. The area covered by the agreement abounds with bluefin tuna and other fish.
Taiwanese fishermen welcome the agreement
“What’s important for fishermen is not sovereignty, but the right to make a living,” said an official of a fisheries cooperative in Taiwan’s northeastern Yilan County.
Taiwanese authorities have asked fishermen not to approach the Senkakus to prevent confrontations with Japan, sources said.
Meanwhile, officials and fishermen in Okinawa Prefecture voiced dissatisfaction with the concessions.
“The agreement will give away the place where Okinawan fishermen make their living,” said an official of the prefectural association of fisheries cooperatives. “The government has given priority to national interests in a territorial issue and abandoned fishing interests in Okinawa.”
Negotiations on a fishing agreement with Taiwan were pushed forward after Japan’s purchase of the Senkakus from private ownership.
Tensions were heightened among the three nations after Japan nationalized its control over the Senkakus, triggering massive anti-Japan protests in China.
On Sept. 25, about 50 Taiwanese fishing ships, escorted by patrol boats, entered Japanese territorial waters around the Senkakus. The Japan Coast Guard turned them away with a water cannon.
China attempted to work with Taiwan to counter Japan
Senior Japanese government officials were concerned that Japan may lose its effective control over the islands in the face of a united backlash from China and Taiwan.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda instructed his foreign minister, Koichiro Genba, to conclude negotiations on a fishing agreement with Taiwan. Talks had started in 1996, but stalled in 2009.
Genba told Taiwanese officials in October that Japan expected to resume negotiations at an early date, through the Interchange Association, Japan, which serves as Japan’s representative office in Taiwan.
The talks resumed in November, but failed to make any progress as Japan and Taiwan re-asserted their individual claims to sovereignty over the Senkakus.
In December, the Liberal Democratic Party retook the reins of government after its landslide victory over Noda’s Democratic Party of Japan in the Lower House election.
Taiwan has since changed its policy and decided to conclude a fishing agreement by skipping the sovereignty issue.
Ma said in February that Taiwan will not form a coalition with China against Japan over the Senkakus.
Last year, he advocated an East China Sea peace initiative, under which countries in the region would shelve territorial issues and jointly develop natural resources.
Washington is also believed to have used its clout. The United States informally called on Taiwan to exercise restraint, fearing it may add fuel to tensions between Japan and China over the Senkakus, sources said.
Shinzo Abe, who succeeded Noda as prime minister, has traditionally taken a hard-line stance against China and attached importance to relations with Taiwan.
He supported a fishing agreement with Taiwan. Japanese and Taiwanese representatives agreed to accelerate talks over the issue when they met in March.Source: The Asahi Shimbun – Japan gives priority to Senkakus issue over fishing interests
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