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Taiwan, Japan to hold talks over maritime, fishing dispute

Taiwan and Japan will begin the first round of negotiations next week to set up a mechanism for cooperation on maritime affairs near Okinotori, the southernmost point of Japanese territory.

The talks will be held in Tokyo on Monday, the Taiwanese Foreign Ministry said.

The talks, aimed at addressing maritime problems that have developed over the years between Taiwan and Japan, will cover issues including emergency rescue, scientific research and fishing near Okinotori, Foreign Minister David Lee told reporters on Thursday.

The two sides had initially agreed to meet in Taipei on July 28, shortly after President Tsai Ing-wen took office in May, but the meeting was postponed because Taiwan wanted more time to prepare.

Lee said Taiwan’s short-term goal on fisheries was to “at least let our fishermen continue fishing in what Japan considers its exclusive economic zone around Okinotori”.

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Taiwan hopes the meeting could be held once a year, or more often if necessary.

The foreign minister later announced in a statement that the Taiwan delegation would be headed by Tsai Ming-yao, secretary general of the Association of East Asian Relations, the Taiwanese body in charge of ties with Japan in the absence of formal diplomatic relations.

The association’s chairman, Chiou I-jen, will also attend the talks as an adviser as Taiwan’s government attaches great importance to the issue, the statement said.

“We hope both sides could establish a sound communication channel and close relationship of cooperation on maritime affairs based on reciprocity and mutual trust,” it added.

A Taiwanese fishing boat and its crew members were detained for fishing in Japan’s self-declared exclusive economic zone near Okinotori in April.

The boat and its crew were released a few days later following negotiations that led to the payment of a fine.

Taiwan argues that Taiwanese fishermen should be allowed to fish in the area, which it considers international waters.

The Tsai administration takes a different position from that of her predecessor Ma Ying-jeou’s administration on the legal status of Okinotori.

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The Ma government saw the outcropping in the Pacific as rocks and not an island, a distinction that would disqualify Japan from entitlement to a 200-nautical mile economic exclusion zone around Okinotori under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The Tsai administration, however, said in late May that it “does not hold any specific position” on its status and that it is up to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf to decide whether Okinotori qualifies as islands or rocks.