Taiwan, Japan sign marine emergency and rescue operations MOU

12/20/2017 02:39 PM
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Chiou I-jen (邱義仁, left) and Mitsuo Ohashi (大橋光夫)
Chiou I-jen (邱義仁, left) and Mitsuo Ohashi (大橋光夫)

Taipei, Dec. 20 (CNA) Taiwan and Japan on Wednesday signed an agreement to facilitate maritime emergency and rescue operations on the open sea as a second bilateral meeting on maritime affairs cooperation concluded in Taipei.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed by Chiou I-jen (邱義仁), head of the Taiwan-Japan Relations Association (TJRA), and Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association (JTEA) Chairman Mitsuo Ohashi (大橋光夫).

TJRA and JTEA handle bilateral affairs in the absence of diplomatic ties on behalf of Taiwanese and Japanese governments.

In their addresses, Chiou and Ohashi praised the achievements made during the two-day-meeting, saying that it is another step in forging closer bilateral relations.

However, the most contentious part of the annual meeting was whether Taiwanese fishermen will be able to operate freely around Japan's uninhabited Okinotori Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, an issue the two sides failed to reach agreement on the first meeting.

In the just-concluded meeting, TJRA Secretary-General Chang Shu-ling (張淑玲) said the issue was brought up by Taiwan but once again no consensus was reached.

Taiwan insisted that fishermen should be able to operate freely in waters near Okinotori, according to Chang. "The Japanese side understands our demands and needs," she noted.

However, the Taiwan government is also advising local fishermen to avoid fishing in such high risk areas.

Despite failing to reach agreement, Chang said both sides demonstrated a certain level of goodwill and will continue their dialogue soon.

According to Taiwan's Deputy Coast Guard Administration chief Hu Yi-gang (胡意剛), who attended the two-day meeting, the MOU is expected to facilitate cooperation in maritime rescues on the open sea and in overlapping waters.

"Once a Taiwanese vessel reports to the Fisheries Agency that it has had an accident at sea, the agency will contact us and ask us to send a distress call to the Japanese coastguard to call for their assistance if they have vessels closer to the scene and vice versa," Hu told a press event following the signing ceremony.

Asked what Taiwan would do if a Taiwanese fishing vessel has an emergency at sea near the atoll, Hu said the Taiwan side will report the incident to the Japanese coastguard immediately because "Okinotori is too far away from Taiwan."

This is the second time a maritime affairs cooperation meeting has been held since the mechanism was launched. The first meeting was held in Oct. 2016 in Tokyo.

The dialogue mechanism was proposed in the wake of a fisheries dispute in the waters near Japan's Okinotori Atoll in 2016.

Japan detained a Taiwanese fishing vessel the Tung Sheng Chi No. 16 on April 25, 2016 near the atoll, prompting a strong protest from the then ruling Kuomintang (KMT) administration.

The KMT government insisted the atoll was not an island as Japan claims and therefore not entitled to a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The administration later sent patrol vessels to the area in a move they said was aimed at protecting the rights of Taiwanese fishermen operating there.

In contrast to the KMT's stance, since assuming power in May 2016 the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government has sought to resolve the issue through diplomatic channels and negotiations.

The new DPP administration has said it will not take a position on whether Okinotori is legally an island for the time being.

(By Joseph Yeh)


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