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Taiwan ups the ante in protest against seizure of fishing boat (update)

ROC Central News Agency

2016/04/29 12:31:04

Taipei, April 29 (CNA) Taiwan's Foreign Minister David Lin (林永樂) on Friday summoned Japan's de facto ambassador in Taipei to lodge a formal protest against the seizure earlier this week of a Taiwanese fishing boat on the high seas near a Japanese-controlled atoll.

Taiwan's Legislature, meanwhile, was planning to issue a strong condemnation of Japan's action, which the Legislature said had damaged the long-lasting friendly relations between the two countries.

A coast guard vessel and a ship belonging to the Taiwan's Council of Agriculture will depart Sunday for waters near Okinotori to protect Taiwanese fishermen operating in the area, the Coast Guard Administration said.

During their meeting at MOFA, Lin told Mikio Numata, chief representative of the Japan Interchange Association's Taipei Office, that Taiwan will never accept Japan's claim that Okinotori is an island. The atoll is located in the Western Pacific to the east of Taiwan at a distance of more than 1,700 kilometers from Tokyo.

Given that an atoll is not entitled to an exclusive economic zone, Taiwan has the right to fish on the high seas, Lin said, adding that he hopes the two countries can discuss the latest fishing dispute.

The fishing boat "Tung Sheng Chi No. 16," which is registered in the southern Taiwan county of Pingtung, was seized by the Japanese coast guard early Monday some 150 nautical miles east-southeast of Okinotori.

The boat and its crew were released Tuesday after the owner paid a security deposit of NT$1.76 million (US$54,442) to the Japanese authorities at the latter's request.

Taiwan has protested Japan's actions at the highest level.

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) issued a statement Wednesday strongly condemning Japan's seizure of the boat. He pledged to fight for fishing rights on the high seas and to safeguard the rights of Taiwanese fishermen. Ma also condemned what he said was Japan's illegal expansion of power.

According to the president, the Okinotori atoll was originally less than 9.9 square meters in area, "but has been expanded to hundreds of square meters by means of artificial construction."

Japan's claim to a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone around Okinotori is a "violation of international law and the definition of an island under Article 121 of the United National Convention on the Law of the Sea," Ma contended.

Before Lin's meeting with Numata on Friday, the foreign minister told the press that he intended to convey Ma's views on the issue to Japan and seek dialogue with Japan on the matter as soon as possible.

"Everyone concerned should take the next step and discuss how to establish a cooperation mechanism," Lin said.

He also said that Japan should respect the rights of Taiwanese to fish on the high seas.

In Taiwan's Legislature, a protest statement was expected to be issued after a plenary session Friday afternoon, following a meeting in the morning of the legislative caucuses, which was chaired by Legislative Speaker Su Jia-chyuan (蘇嘉全).

Democratic Progressive Party caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) told reporters after the caucus meeting that the Legislature will strongly condemn the Japanese coast guard's seizure of the "Tung Sheng Chi No. 16" on the high seas, its handcuffing and strip search of the boat's crew, and its demand for a NT$1.76 million security deposit before releasing the boat and crew.

Such conduct is a severe violation of fishermen's human rights and their right to fish on the high seas, the Legislature will say in the statement, according to Ker.

Also speaking to reporters, Kuomintang caucus whip Lin Te-fu (林德福) said Taiwan's ruling and opposition parties are very angry over Japan's conduct.

He said Japan had forcibly detained Taiwanese fishermen near Okinotori, which is not even an island, and had treated them "inhumanely."

Taiwan and Japan have enjoyed otherwise cordial bilateral relations in recent years.

(By Tang Pei-chung, Wen Kuei-hsiang and Elizabeth Hsu)

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