Taiwan and Japan's East China Sea Dispute Back in the Spotlight
Image Credit: Flickr/ Al Jazeera English

Taiwan and Japan's East China Sea Dispute Back in the Spotlight


On Sunday, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs asserted that it had the right to conduct oceanographic research within its disputed exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the East China Sea with Japan. Taiwan and Japan dispute a portion of the East China Sea, including the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, which Japan administers, but both Taiwan and China claim as their territory.

The Taiwanese foreign ministry’s assertion arose in response to a Japanese press report by the right-leaning Sankei Shimbun that claimed the number of Taiwanese research vessels entering Japan’s EEZ in the East China Sea had grown and that vessels had entered nearly eight times without Japanese permission. The Sankei Shimbun asserted that Taiwanese vessels carried out “unauthorized activities” in Japan’s EEZ around Yonaguni Island and that, in 2016, Taiwan had carried out more oceanographic research in the area than it had in a decade.

“While the two sides hold different positions on the demarcation of the EEZs, the Republic of China government has insisted consistently that its research vessels have the right to engage in oceanographic research within its EEZ,” the Taiwanese foreign ministry declared.

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Article 56 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea, which Japan has signed but Taiwan has not, as it is not a member of the United Nations, outlines that a coastal state enjoys sovereign rights “for the purpose of exploring and exploiting” in the EEZ. The convention specifically highlights “marine scientific research” as one of the coastal state’s EEZ rights.

Other states are able to enjoy most high seas freedoms in the coastal state’s EEZ, including freedom of navigation and overflight, and limited scientific research. Article 246 of UNCLOS authorizes coastal states to “have the right to regulate, authorize, and conduct marine scientific research in their exclusive economic zone and on their continental shelf.”

Taiwan and Japan have a history of managing their dispute in the East China Sea diplomatically. In 2013, after more than a decade of on-and-off negotiations, the two agreed to a fisheries agreement, allowing Taiwanese trawlers some access to disputed waters. Taiwan, like China, had strongly protested Japan’s 2012 decision to nationalize the Senkaku Islands. (Local Japanese fishermen in Okinawa have protested the deal with Taiwan since its implementation.)

Taiwan and Japan last held maritime cooperation talks in Tokyo on October 31, 2016. The talks covered fisheries issues, maritime search and rescue cooperation, and also marine technology. The two sides will meet in Taiwan next year, “with task force meetings dedicated to oceanographic surveys and fisheries cooperation,” according to the Taiwanese government.

“We hope both sides can reach a reasonable arrangement that both sides find acceptable,” the Taiwanese foreign ministry said on Sunday of the oceanographic research dispute.

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