President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday vowed to safeguard the fishing rights of Taiwanese fishermen in international waters and denied Japan’s claim that the Okinotori atoll is an island.
The Presidential Office issued a statement saying that Ma made the pledge during a high-level national security meeting attended by Vice President Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), Premier Simon Chang (張善政) and top officials from the ministries of foreign affairs and national defense, the Coast Guard Administration and the Council of Agriculture.
The meeting was called to discuss countermeasures to the Japanese Coast Guard’s confiscation of the Taiwanese fishing boat, Tung Sheng Chi No. 16, about 150 nautical miles (277.8km) east-southeast of the Okinotori atoll on Monday and its demand for a ￥6 million (US$54,240) “security deposit,” the office said.
The boat was released, along with its Taiwanese captain and nine Chinese and Indonesian crew members, on Tuesday afternoon after its owner, Pan Chung-chiu (潘忠秋) — the father of its captain, met Tokyo’s demand.
During the meeting, Ma announced the government’s three-part stance on the incident, the office said.
First, based on Article 121 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Okinotori atoll, which has a total area of less than 3 ping (9.9m2), is not an island that can “sustain human habitation or economic life of their own.”
“Thus, Japan cannot claim a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone [EEZ] around the outcroppings. We will also firmly defend our fishermen’s freedom to operate in the high seas,” the office quoted Ma as saying.
Second, the government is opposed to and does not recognize Japan’s illegal expansion of rights by unilaterally defining the uninhabited rock as an “island,” Ma said, adding that Japan’s seizure of Taiwanese fishermen operating in international waters infringed on their freedom of fishing conferred by Subparagraph 5, Paragraph 1, Article 87 of the UNCLOS.
Third, the government would step up efforts to protect the nation’s fishermen operating near the atoll and safeguard their rights.
The office said Ma also instructed the Executive Yuan to adopt three measures, including a request that all levels of government agencies refer to the atoll as “Okinotori rock” rather than “Okinotori Island.”
The Executive Yuan was also asked to have the foreign ministry and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Japan to continue negotiations with their Japanese counterparts, while asking the Coast Guard Administration and the Fisheries Agency to put forward concrete measures to protect the nation’s fishermen and carry them out immediately.
About 300 fishermen, mobilized by the National Fishermen’s Association, rallied at noon yesterday outside the Taipei office of the Interchange Association, Japan, with some spraying paint on a map of the Okinotori reefs in protest.
The protest was led by association head Huang Yi-cheng (黃一成) and Pan, while several lawmakers, including Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Huang Chao-shun (黃昭順) and Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Chuang Jui-hsiung (莊瑞雄), showed up to lend support.
Holding banners and yelling slogans, the fishermen demanded that the Japanese government apologize and that “justice be served” for the seizure of the vessel. They also condemned what they said was Japan’s rude and unreasonable conduct.