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Taiwan to bring up Okinotori dispute with Japan in talks

ROC Central News Agency

2016/07/22 19:47:16

Taipei, July 22 (CNA) Taiwan is intent on bringing up a dispute over fishing in waters near the Japan-controlled Okinotori atoll during a first meeting on maritime cooperation between Taiwan and Japan, but the stance may cause the meeting to be delayed.

A report in the Chinese-language United Daily News reported earlier Friday that Taiwan wanted to talk about the issue during the meeting, scheduled for July 28, but was still negotiating with Japan to finalize the meeting's agenda.

If the two sides cannot iron out their differences -- presumably in part over putting the fishing dispute near the Okinotori atoll on the agenda -- the meeting will likely be pushed back, the report said.

The encounter will be the first involving a new dialogue mechanism set up by the two countries on maritime cooperation.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Friday the government will make every effort in negotiations with Japan to protect the fishing rights of Taiwanese fishermen near the atoll, 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.

Before 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, the ministry added.

Asked to confirm whether the date of the meeting has been set for July 28, Japan's Interchange Association said the two sides are still finalizing the details.

Last month, the ministry said issues to be discussed during the meeting will focus on fishery cooperation, maritime environmental protection, responses to maritime emergencies and cooperation in maritime scientific research.

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

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 it was not an island under international law because it could not sustain human habitation.

(By Tang Pei-chun and Elaine Hou)

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