Taipei, April 12 (CNA) The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) warned on Wednesday that Taiwanese vessels fishing in waters near Okinotori, a Japan-held Pacific atoll, run the risk of running afoul of the Japanese authorities as the two countries have yet to reach agreement on the issue.
Tsai Ming-yaw (蔡明耀), secretary-general of the Association of East Asian Relations, gave the advice when asked by lawmakers at the Legislative Yuan about the just-concluded meeting of a working group on fisheries cooperation between the two countries in Tokyo on Sunday.
The Association of East Asian Relations is an MOFA-affiliated institute tasked with handling ties with Japan in the absence of formal diplomatic relations.
At a hearing held by the legislative Foreign and National Defense Committee, Tsai said no agreement was reached on Okinotori during discussions on the issue at the Tokyo meeting.
"While Taiwan declined to make any concessions, Japan is extremely unyielding" on issues related to economic sea zones, Tsai said.
Without any resolution of the issue, it remains risky for fishermen to operate in the area because the Japanese side will definitely take action if Taiwanese vessels stray into their exclusive economic zone (EEZ), Tsai said.
Japan classifies Okinotori, a 9-square-meter uninhabited Pacific atoll that lies 1,600km east of Taiwan, as an island, which means it is entitled to a 200-nautical-mile EEZ.
Taiwan, however, maintains that Okinotori is not an island because it is unable to sustain human habitation and has accused Japan of carrying out land reclamation to expand the atoll.
A dispute erupted last April after a Taiwanese fishing boat was detained by Japan on the high seas near Okinotori.
The administration of then-President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) lodged a strong protest with Japan against its refusal to release the vessel until the owner paid a security deposit of 6 million Japanese yen (US$54,000).
Since President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) took office last May, her administration has pushed for dialogue between Taiwan and Japan on maritime affairs in an effort to promote bilateral ties and narrow the differences on controversial issues.
(By Scarlett Chai and Elizabeth Hsu)