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Japan; Taiwan: Landmark Fishing Agreement

(Apr. 15, 2013) On April 10, 2013, the Republic of China (on Taiwan) (ROC) and Japan concluded a landmark agreement on protection of each jurisdiction’s fishing rights in their overlapping territories near the five islets and three barren rocks in the East China Sea known in Japan as the Senkaku Islands, on mainland China as the Diaoyu (“fishing”) Islands, and in Taiwan as the Tiaoyutai (“fishing platform”) Islands. The uninhabited archipelago is also referred to in English as the Pinnacle Islands. The Japanese name for the main island, Uotsuri, also means “fishing.” (Taiwan, Japan Sign Landmark Fishery Rights Pact, TAIWAN TODAY (Apr. 11, 2013); Nicholas Kristof, Look Out for the Diaoyu Islands, THE NEW YORK TIMES (Sept. 10, 2010); Seokwu Lee, Territorial Disputes Among Japan, China and Taiwan Concerning the Senkaku Islands, 3:7 BOUNDARY AND TERRITORY BRIEFING (2002); Senkaku / Diaoyutai Islands, GLOBALSECURITY.ORG (last visited Apr. 15, 2013).)

The five-point agreement had originally been proposed on August 5, 2012, by President Ma Ying-jeou of the ROC. The initiative “urges all parties to refrain from antagonistic actions; not abandon dialogue; observe international law; resolve disputes through peaceful means; and form a mechanism for exploring and developing resources on a cooperative basis.” (Taiwan, Japan Sign Landmark Fishery Rights Pact, supra; Lee Shu-hua & Y.F. Low, President Hails Historic Fishery Pact with Japan, THE CENTRAL NEWS AGENCY (last visited Apr. 15, 2013).)

Key features of the agreement are:

  • the opening of an additional 4,530 square kilometer area to Taiwanese and Japanese fishermen’s operations, from 27 degrees north latitude to Japan’s Yaeyama Islands (at the southernmost part of the Ryukyu Islands chain, the largest island of which is Okinawa);
  • a pledge by both sides to set up a joint fishing commission to deal with related issues in the region, with officials scheduled to meet at least once a year; and
  • avoidance of the sovereignty dispute over the Diaoyutais and non-application to waters within 12 nautical miles of that archipelago. (Taiwan, Japan Sign Landmark Fishery Rights Pact, supra; for maps, see, for example, Gavan McCormack, Small Islands – Big Problem: Senkaku/Diaoyu and the Weight of History and Geography in China-Japan Relations, 9:1 THE ASIA-PACIFIC JOURNAL (Jan. 3, 2011); & The Senkaku or Diaoyu Islands: Narrative of an Empty Space, THE ECONOMIST (Dec. 22, 2012).)

The sovereignty dispute over the islands is a sensitive one that has recently become inflamed; the governments of Japan, mainland China, and Taiwan all lay claim to them. According to David Y. L. Lin, ROC Minister of Foreign Affairs, “[w]e insisted on adding a clause to ensure our sovereignty and territorial claims will not be undermined by the fishery agreement … . Although the government maintains its rock-solid stance on ROC sovereignty over the Diaoyutais, there is every possibility that natural resources in the region can be shared.” He further noted that the ROC position accords with the government’s East China Sea peace initiative. (Taiwan, Japan Sign Landmark Fishery Rights Pact, supra; see also, e.g., Steven Wei Su, The Territorial Dispute over the Tiaoyu/Senkaku Islands: An Update, 36 OCEAN DEVELOPMENT & INTERNATIONAL LAW 45–61 (2005).)

The East China Sea Peace Initiative calls on the parties concerned to:

1. refrain from taking any antagonistic actions;

2. shelve controversies and not abandon dialogue;

3. observe international law and resolve disputes through peaceful means;

4. seek consensus on a code of conduct in the East China Sea; and

5. establish a mechanism for cooperation on exploring and developing resources in the East China Sea. (East China Sea Peace Initiative, ROC Ministry of Foreign Affairs website (updated Nov. 14, 2012).)

The Japanese government, too, insists on its own claim to the archipelago:

There is no doubt that the Senkaku Islands are clearly an inherent part of the territory of Japan, in light of historical facts and based upon international law. Indeed, the Senkaku Islands are under the valid control of Japan. There exists no issue of territorial sovereignty to be resolved concerning the Senkaku Islands. (Japan-China Relations: Current Situation of Senkaku Islands, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan website (Apr. 2013) [there is a map on the same webpage as well as other position papers].)

For its part, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed concern over the Diaoyu Islands fishing agreement reached by Japan and Taiwan, stating through a spokesman: “[w]e are extremely concerned about Japan and Taiwan discussing and signing a fishing agreement … . We hope that Japan earnestly abide by its promises on the Taiwan issue and act cautiously and appropriately.” (Jiawei Liu, China ‘Concerned’ by Japan-Taiwan Diaoyu Fishing Agreement, SHANGHAIIST (Apr. 12, 2013).) According to China’s whitepaper on the islands, “Diaoyu Dao and its affiliated islands are an inseparable part of the Chinese territory. Diaoyu Dao is China’s inherent territory in all historical, geographical and legal terms, and China enjoys indisputable sovereignty over Diaoyu Dao.” (Full Text: Diaoyu Dao, an Inherent Territory of China, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China website (Sept. 26, 2012).)