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Taiwan-Japan maritime talks postponed

2016/07/26 17:26:47

Taipei, July 26 (CNA) The first meeting of a new dialogue on maritime cooperation between Taiwan and Japan has been postponed, after Taipei requested that the meeting, originally slated for July 28, be pushed back to allow better preparations for the wide-ranging topics to be discussed, Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Tuesday.

"We wanted to postpone the meeting to have more time to better prepare for it," said Tsai Ming-yaw (蔡明耀), secretary-general of the Association of East Asian Relations, which is in charge of ties with Japan in the absence of formal diplomatic relations.

Noting that there are four main topics to be discussed during the meeting, Tsai said the preparations involve coordination among the several government agencies involved. Thus, Taiwan needs more time to make proper preparations, he told CNA.

The issues to be discussed will focus on fishery cooperation, maritime environmental protection, response to maritime emergencies, and cooperation in maritime scientific research, he said.

The ministry said that the two sides will negotiate on a date when the meeting can be rescheduled.

On the question of whether the delay is linked to a dispute over fishing in waters near the Japan-controlled Okinotori Atoll, Tsai responded in the negative.

"No matter what, we will definitely bring this issue up during the meeting," he said.

Echoing Tsai's remarks, Presidential Office spokesman Alex Huang (黃重諺) said that the government hopes to make better preparations for the meeting.

Asked about the delay of the meeting, Japan's Interchange Association -- which represents Japan's interests in Taiwan in the absence of bilateral diplomatic ties -- said that it hopes the meeting will take place as soon as possible.

The news of the meeting being pushed back has drawn dissatisfaction from fishermen in the eastern county of Yilan, who urged the government to take a more active role in protecting the rights of Taiwanese fishermen to operate in waters near Okinotori.

Tsai confirmed last week that both sides had planned to hold the meeting on July 28 in Taipei, but also hinted that the talks were likely to be delayed, as both sides were still finalizing the meeting agenda.

A report in the Chinese-language United Daily News reported July 22 that Taiwan wanted to talk about the Okinotori dispute during the meeting. If the two sides could not iron out their differences -- presumably in part over putting the dispute on fishing near the atoll on the agenda -- the meeting would likely be pushed back, the report said.

The meeting will be the first encounter involving a new dialogue mechanism set up by Taiwan and Japan on maritime cooperation.

Taiwan's government has vowed to make every effort in negotiations with Japan to protect the fishing rights of Taiwanese fishermen near Okinotori, located in the Pacific Ocean about 1,600 kilometers east-southeast of Taiwan's southern tip.

It defended its insistence on raising the issue, arguing that while Japan has sovereignty over Okinotori, the definition of Okinotori -- whether it is an island or an atoll -- is unclear.

Until the international community reaches a consensus on the issue, Japan should respect the freedom of Taiwan and other countries to fish in waters near Okinotori, Taiwan's Foreign Ministry said.

Taiwan and Japan decided to establish the dialogue May 23, three days after President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) took office, in response to the most recent fishing dispute that erupted when a Taiwanese fishing boat was detained by Japan April 25 on the high seas near Okinotori.

In April, 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 had paid a security deposit of 6 million Japanese yen (US$54,000).

Japan defines Okinotori as an island, which means it is entitled to a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone. The Ma administration argued that it is not an island under international law because it cannot not sustain human habitation.

(By Elaine Hou, Lu Hsin-hui and Shen Ju-fong)
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