Chih-Chung grew up in Taipei City, Taiwan. He received a bachelor degree in biochemistry from National Taiwan University in 2009. He is currently pursuing a PhD degree in Immunology Program at Washington University. His research interest lies in understanding the regulation of pathogenic immune cells in a model of multiple sclerosis.
“I am grateful for what I took from the McDonnell Academy, and I am getting ready to give what I have back to the society.”
The Old Men and the Sea: Making the Luzon Strait Peaceful
On May 9, 2013, a small Taiwanese fishing boat in the Luzon Strait was attacked by a Philippine Coast Guard vessel, resulting in the death of a 65-year-old Taiwanese fisherman, Mr. Hung Shih-Cheng. The shooting occurred about 180 nautical miles southeast of Taiwan and 50 nautical miles east of an inhabited Philippine island. Both countries asserted that the incident occurred within their 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zones (EEZ). The Philippine government proclaimed that the coastguard was on duty to prevent “illegal fishing” in Philippine waters; they opened fire because the fishing vessel attempted to ram their ship. The survivors from the fishing boat, however, denied any intention of attacking the Philippine vessel. The government of Taiwan challenged that firing on an unarmed fishing boat, arguing that it violated the International Maritime Law.
Hung was not the first Taiwanese fisherman to be killed by the Philippine coastguard. In 2004, Philippine police attacked a Taiwanese fishing vessel in disputed waters, resulting in the death of a crew member. Similarly in 2006, a captain was shot and killed by the Philippine coastguard within the overlapping EEZ. In addition, an estimated 108 Taiwanese fishing vessels have been detained by the Philippines in the past two decades. There is little doubt that the undefined maritime boundary between Taiwan and the Philippines is an urgent problem that needs solving.
However, by invoking the “One-China Policy,” the Philippine government has denied Taiwanese sovereignty and considers signing a treaty on fishery issues with Taipei as inappropriate and unnecessary.
At the same time, however, the Philippines has not opened discussions with Beijing on the disputed fishery issues. Although Taiwan has eagerly sought to negotiate fishery issues, the Philippines has refused to cooperate.
Historically, fishing agreements have not always involved sovereign states as parties. The Faroe Islands is a Danish self-governing administration that is north of Great Britain and about halfway between Iceland and Norway. Situated in the area between the Norwegian Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, the Faroese depend heavily on fishing. Despite not being a fully fledged independent country, the Faroese government has conducted fishing-rights negotiations with neighboring countries. The Cook Islands in the East Pacific Ocean, whose defense and foreign affairs are controlled by New Zealand, serve as another example. Although not a sovereign nation, the Cook Islands signed fishery agreements with South Korea and Norway. Additionally, its government also signed a maritime boundary treaty with the United States to resolve the territorial disputes with American Samoa. These facts show that reaching fishing agreements is not a privilege exclusively enjoyed by sovereign states.
Returning to the case at hand, Japan recently signed a fishing agreement with Taiwan. Japan controls several islands in the East China Sea and the West Pacific Ocean, one of which is only 70 miles from Taiwan. Not surprisingly, the overlapping EEZ led to the stringent competition of fishing grounds between both sides. In the past it was often claimed that Taiwanese fishing boats were detained by the Japanese coast guard due to “illegal fishing” in Japanese waters. The subsequent Taiwan-Japan Fisheries Accord allows the fishing vessels from both countries to operate within a certain zone. By strict adherence to this agreement, fishing conflicts between Taiwan and Japan will be minimized.
Furthermore, Taiwan participates in several Regional Fisheries Management Organizations as a “fishing entity.” For instance, Taiwan is a formal member of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) and the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization (SPRFMO). The legal basis for Taiwan to participate in these inter-governmental organizations is firmly grounded on the Fish Stocks Agreement of the United Nations, which “applies mutatis mutandis to other fishing entities whose vessels fish on the high seas.”
Being part of the international fishing community, Taiwan has the same rights to manage and conserve marine resources as other nations. Therefore, it is improper and unreasonable for a country not to negotiate with Taiwan on fishery issues.
In retrospect, the tragedy that happened in May could have been prevented if both Taiwan and the Philippines had been willing to start negotiations and define a maritime border. The “One-China Policy” is an invalid excuse to hinder such negotiations; several examples show that it is not only sovereign states that are capable of signing treaties on fishery agreements. Taiwan is an official and equal member of several inter-governmental organizations on fishery management, and the Philippines should acknowledge Taiwan as a fishing entity that enjoys the rights and obligations protected by the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement.
In sum, it seems perfectly reasonable, indeed necessary, that the Philippines start negotiations on fishery issues and maritime boundary with Taiwan, mirroring the recent negotiations between Taiwan and Japan. In this way, both countries will be able to minimize fishing conflicts and share the marine resources in the Luzon Strait and its neighboring waters in a peaceful manner.
Chih-Chung “Jerry” Lin is in the McDonnell International Scholars Academy at Washington University in St. Louis. He received his undergraduate degree in 2009 from National Taiwan University in Taipei, Taiwan. He is currently pursuing his PhD in the Department of Biology & Biomedical Sciences in Washington University’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.