Taiwan-Japanese Relations and a Rock!

By Jerome A. Cohen

 Aerial view of Okinotorishima, Japan. (source:  国土交通省関東地方整備局 , Japan)

Aerial view of Okinotorishima, Japan. (source: 国土交通省関東地方整備局, Japan)

Taiwan and Japan, despite the absence of formal diplomatic relations, have just signed another agreement and four MoUs on commercial and various matters, in the context of closer ties since President Tsai Ing-wen took office in Taiwan in 2016. I wonder what is going on in the quiet negotiations between Taiwan and Japan over the more sensitive Japanese claim that Okinitorishima is entitled to an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles and therefore Japan can restrict Taiwan fishermen from large and rich areas.

The 2016 Philippine arbitration award against China could be invoked by Taiwan in support of its opposition to the EEZ claim but it may be impolitic for Taiwan to do so in light of its need for Japan’s support in other matters (additionally, the arbitration award is not legally binding on Taiwan since Taiwan was not allowed to be a party to the arbitration proceeding, and Taiwan has therefore rejected the arbitration award).

Japan and Taiwan will probably try to work out a compromise on this issue before the 2020 presidential election in Taiwan in light of a possible KMT return to power that would oust Tsai’s DPP administration. The KMT administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (2008-16) was openly hostile to Japan on this fishing rights issue. The EEZ claim, giving Japan control over the resources of a huge sea area, has implications that go far beyond fish and is based on tiny islands not much larger than a king-size bed!