3 Reasons to Applaud Taiwan-Japan Fishing Accord
Image Credit: Wikicommons

3 Reasons to Applaud Taiwan-Japan Fishing Accord


The Naval Diplomat has been critical of our Taiwanese friends of late, so it would be churlish not to send out a hearty huzzah! when one is due. This is one such time.

Last week the news broke that officials in Taipei and Tokyo had agreed to permit fishing vessels from Taiwan to ply their trade within the 12-nautical-mile belt of territorial sea girdling the Senkaku/Diaoyu archipelago. Though the deal may look trivial, here are three intertwined reasons it's a nifty bit of statesmanship:

3. It shows that Taipei is no one's crummy little toady. For awhile it appeared as though Taiwan might side with the mainland in the Senkakus impasse. Ganging up against Japan would have set a disturbing precedent for playground-style diplomacy in the China seas. Cross-strait cooperation of this sort would not just bestow legitimacy on Beijing's effort to strongarm Tokyo, but also start to turn Japan's southern marine flank. To Japanese eyes, driving a salient into the Western Pacific would constitute a worrisome geostrategic development indeed. President Ma Ying-jeou and his lieutenants wisely desisted from helping the mainland bully their common neighbor.

2. It reminds everyone that Taiwan remains a responsible de facto sovereign. International agreements are made by sovereign governments — a status the mainland denies Taipei. China has sought to constrict the island's "international space" for many years, for instance by foisting the stilted name "Chinese Taipei" on it at international gatherings large and small, and by denying it entry into multinational institutions whose members are, after all, sovereign states. By concluding even a modest deal like the one with Japan, Taiwan subtly reminds outsiders that it retains its independence in international affairs, and that its people possess the capacity and the right to decide their own destiny.

1. It shows how mature powers conduct themselves. A stench has surrounded the term appeasement since 1938, when the Munich Conference bartered away parts of Czechoslovakia to Hitler's Germany without the Czechs' consent. Munich involved a particularly toxic variant of appeasement, but in reality nations appease one another all the time. One doubts, for instance, that the United States will come to blows with Canada or other NATO allies over how the Arctic fits into the law of the sea. They will debate, and sparks may be struck, but they will find some mutually acceptable compromise. Similarly, the Taiwan-Japan pact shows that it is indeed possible for Asian powers to shelve big disputes indefinitely while getting on with everyday life.

Not a bad piece of diplomatic judo vis-à-vis, ahem, a certain regional power that appears to view the land grab as the way to resolve nettlesome territorial disputes. More, please.

Jiang Zhang
April 25, 2013 at 14:32

Go, Japan. I'm a mainland Chinese, and I support your claims!

April 18, 2013 at 07:45

The issue of Dokdo is more about thier insecurity than any claim Japan has on it.


I always told the Koreans that they should just ignore Japan. They have no right to the island, the Koreans control it and have coast guard on the island. Just tell the Japanese "whatever", when they start going on about the island.


The only way that Japan will get Dokdo from the Koreans is if they invade the island and that is unlikely to ever happen so the whole issue is a non starter.


If it was China instead of Japan then they may have a reason to be worried and then my recommendation would be to drill holes under the island and to turn it into a hidden submarine base with a 12 mile no go zone around it and sink every fishing boat that enters the waters.  Call it the East Sea/ Japan Sea Triangle, a place of mystery where boats go to disappear. Make few movies about it.

April 18, 2013 at 04:14

Timely article.

I am reminded of "Der Anschluss" which means a connection, and how Nazi Germany used this term as the reason to annex Austria. In today's Germany, Austria is considered a sovereign nation. In today's China, Taiwan is considered a wayward province. Austrians consider themselves Austrian. Taiwanese consider themselves Taiwanese, at least those that vote for the DPP which is about half the population. The KMT still has a one-China policy with, of course, they being the legitimate party over China and Taiwan. Very simple explanation, yes, but just an introduction in "what is" in the political landscape of  Taiwan.

Both the PRC and the ROC believes the Senkakus belongs to Taiwan. The government of Taiwan understands that Japan controls the islands and can repulse any Chinese incursion, and Japan has a strong legal right of ownership. What does the ROC have to gain by this treaty? Fishing rights is not a big deal. There is a whole ocean surrounding Taiwan to fish in. 

Unbeknownst to any of us there must be something else. In case of attack by the PRC, will Japan come to the aid of the ROC? Will Japan sell military armament or share in military technology? I think yes to some parts of this. In case of attack, Japan can share the exact movement of every invading PRC warship. It is pure speculation that the PRC can even land a single ship on Taiwanese soil. Taiwan is a small country and unable to develop weapons systems and upgrades. It is a natural relationship for Japan to share technology with a tacit understanding there is a strategic partnership.

Nothing is what seems and what may be is.



April 17, 2013 at 15:10

It would be great if Japan and S.Korea could come up with some agreement on Dokdo, then this really would be a finger in both eyes for the CPC and their maritime machinations.

Let's face it, Dokdo is defacto S.Korea, it aint gonna become Japanese anytime soon, just like Senkaku is Japanese and aint gonna become Chinese without a fight.

Japan could just kick the Dokdo-can down the road and say they're going to shelve any disputes with S. Korea for 50years in order to maintain peace and stability in the region.

Or S.Korea could recipricate a similar fishing agreement that Japan has given to Taiwan. 

We all know what the real problem is and it aint the sovereignty of a few rocks known as Dokdo and Senkaku

kiwi asian
April 16, 2013 at 22:32


I agree that ownership is the ultimate source of the dispute but this type of negotiation has much further implications than a smokescreen for sovereignty. What happens for example if much the same type of arragement is applied to natural resources like rare metals or methane hydrate? I'd be led to think that this type of precident might create the kind of channels for joint development agreements for sea floor drilling etc. 

@ Jim

A minor point about Okinawa and Ryuku Islands but for the sake of discussion: You are correct that Japan conquered the Ryukyu Kingdom but these are actions that occured starting 1609 with a major island Amami being annexed by 1624 and despite being tributory to Qing for a long time after, was effectively a vassal to Japan. A fact to put it in historical perspective is that the United Kingdom was founded in 1707.

@Tom F

I agree partially, in that a unified China does not equal, by any means a unified China governed by the ruling party of the PRC today. In that sense, if the PRC opens up to multiple political parties gaining real political agency then it's quite likely that the Revolutionary Committee of the Kuomintang ( token 2nd party) and the like of the China Democratic League would try to jostle to gain a new hegemony over China, albeit likely a more democratic one.

But considering how far the ROC (a full democracy) is from the PRC today I'm not sure if the KMT or the DPP would have any more legitamacy or relevance than the other parties over a unified China. For example I don't realistically see the people living in the Peoples Republic of China to ever agree to reverting to the Republic of China name. 

When President Ma talks about a unified China it is presented in the way that is beyond the status quo. When President Xi speaks of a unified China it envisages the continued hegemony of the CCP.

April 16, 2013 at 19:54

"Shelve big disputes indefinitely while getting on with everyday life."?? Whoaaa. Huge claim there, that just tilted the power balance in the region??! It will probably only be the case if China doesn't react. Low chance of that happening.

Intellectual Merc
April 16, 2013 at 15:37

@Mishmael -I think fish and diplomatic niceties are way better than warships and poachers which the mainland gladly provides everyone…

- www.afp.com/en/node/899877

April 16, 2013 at 13:53


In this specific scenario, it isn't a case of 'responsible' or 'mature' nations compromising.  It is essentially Taiwan wanting some measure of official recognisation as a sovereign state, to the point of taking steps to undermine their own territorial claims.  Japan doesn't lose anything as the agreement is an implicit acknowledgement of Japanese control over the disputed islands.  The fishing rights are a smokescreen, as it is the ownership that is the source of the disputes.  The ownership dispute isn't settled, and is just shelved, ad infinitum.

It is still a smart piece of statesmanship, of course, but it is far different from antagonisitic states unilaterally giving up strategic goals.  One side giving up their claims is definitely not a sign of compromise, but something you see in a peace treaty after their nation is shattered by war or having ultimatiums thrown around by superpowers in a display of coersion.


Tom F
April 16, 2013 at 10:22

@kiwi asian

Yes, that third reason is what shows the most promise in terms of world peace. Remember, the battle between old China and Japan, was between the KMT and JIA. Symbolically, the KMT is the true legitimate ruler of China. This symbolic move will have positive repercussion in terms of the status of China and how the world view Taiwan if the CCP ever trip or loose its footings. 

April 16, 2013 at 09:49

Mishmael, mate.

3: Taiwan hasn't accepted a mere bribe. All they ever cared about in this issue was fishing rights. They don't need those rocks themselves any more than Japan does. China is the only one who wants to use them for military purposes.
And sorry but no, Japan's POV is fairly in line with the POV of most of the world when it comes to security in the West Pacific- expansionist China is a major threat and they would like everything to remain as it is without China conquering anyones territory.
2: China was never going to let Taiwan be free. Good relations between Taiwan and China from China's POV were purely towards incorporating Taiwan into China.
Japan and Taiwan are major trade partners, they've a lot to offer each other.
1: The senkakus weren't aquired through conquest. Japan was the first country to own them….well…I guess you could make the point about Japan having conquered Okinawa but Okinawa seems happy to remain part of Japan at the moment so go figure.
Number 1 is the key point. It really does show how responsible decent nations can reach a compromise over such petty issues as this whilst your Chinas, Argentinas, etc… continue to scream and shout about wanting their rocks.

Leonard R.
April 16, 2013 at 09:24

Do Abe & Ma know something about Beijing the West hasn't figured out yet?

Last time I passed through CKSI airport, I noticed the bookstores had a biography of Xi on prominent display. I also noticed they weren't selling very well.

April 16, 2013 at 09:05

The 2 most important factors are that it shows Taiwan makes its own decisions, and that their decision is not to be the mainland's lackey (which is in Taiwans best interest).

If Japan and South Korea can get over their disagreements, China will be effectivley sealed within the second island Chain, unable to drive stakes between the three allies (SK, Japan, and Taiwan).

kiwi asian
April 16, 2013 at 06:04

I have been following and commenting on this topic because of it's significance. I agree especially with the article on the final reason, on maturity. This is the best form of leadership because it shows an exemplar initiative taken peacefully and proactively in order to deliver a win-win outcome. Others in Asia will see this as proof, that playing nice is not only an option but the best option. I say this in reference to Southeast Asia especially because there are still many potential flash points and much to gain in terms of resources and logistics. 

April 16, 2013 at 03:34

The PRC must abide by this agreement.

April 16, 2013 at 00:09

3. It shows that Taiwan is really Japan's toady – accepting a bribe of fish from Japan in return for abandoning principle and sovereignty. The security of the Western Pacific really cannot only be viewed from Japanese eyes. I for one do not applaud events which enhance Japanese security at the expese of China's.

2. Yes, it does remind everyone of that unpleasent fact. When people seemed to have forgotten it, relations between China and Taiwan were the best they have ever been. What happens now? In any case Taiwan should not be concerned with its Japan relationship, as Japan has literally nothing to offer Taiwan except fish and diplomatic nicities.

1. It shows how Japan would like the world to treat it, not how they deserve to be treated. Territories which Japan acquired through conquest were supposed to be given up by Japan. If not the China, then to someone else. The point of the Japanese surrender in 1945 was that they should not be occupying territory which once belonged to other people. Japan, knowing that it is realtively weak and only getting weaker compared to China, managed to bribe Taiwan and obfuscate the real issue in the Western Pacific. This is not something I celebrate.

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