Actually not a bad article that pinpoints one of the major reasons why we are seeing an increasing number of maritime disputes:
There are over 800 Taiwanese fishing boats operating in the waters around the Diaoyutai (Senkaku or Diaoyu), the islands at the center of a three-way territorial dispute in the East China Sea. The combined catch of the fishing fleet amounts to 40,000 tonnes each year. After Taiwan and Japan signed a fishery agreement last month, Taiwan’s fishermen have been granted access to an additional 4,530 square kilometers of ocean around the islands controlled by Japan. Tuna is the most popular catch between March and June, and crews have been known in the past to trespass, sometimes resulting in their boats being detained by a foreign country’s coast guard.
Taiwan’s fishermen have naturally been very pleased at the recent agreement with Japan. But Hu Nien-tsu, a professor at National Sun Yat Sen University in Kaohsiung, said that Japan is likely to be stricter in securing its maritime borders after the agreement, and will not show as much forbearance as it did in the past when Taiwanese boats would venture beyond their bounds.
Hu is not wrong. Japan has just detained the third Taiwanese vessel in ten days, after they were caught poaching. What is interesting here is the way the Governments of Taiwan and China (and no doubt other maritime nations) prop up and subsidise their fishing industries, and the impacts this has:
Taiwan’s authorities grant large amounts in loans to let fishermen refurbish their vessels. As a result, the country’s fishing fleet has become ever larger and competition between crews ever more intense, with fights reported between local fishermen and with fishermen from Okinawa. It is difficult to determine whether the recent agreement will prove positive for both Taiwan and Japan, the China Times wrote.
As the fleet becomes better equipped, it potential catch size increases, the number of expeditions goes up and the the stress on marine wildlife multiplies exponentially. As a direct result of over fishing (and that’s not even discussing the waste of fish when far less than 100% of a catch is saleable and an even smaller percentage of what is sold is actually consumed and not thrown out after reaching its sell by date) fish stocks are massively depleted. Ask any very old fisherman and he will likely tell you about when Blue Fin and Yellow Fin tuna were plentiful and prices relative low. With waters immediately around Taiwan either protected by law or lacking enough catch for industrial fishing methods, Taiwanese fishermen are going further and further to secure their livelihoods. As too are Chinese fishermen. Both are building a pretty terrible reputation for themselves.
One difference between the Taiwanese and Chinese fishermen though is the extent to which politics influences their actions. The Taiwanese government subsidises the fishermen (although they constitute a small part of the agricultural sector of the economy that totals about 2% of GDP annually) most likely in order to keep the politically active and influential Fishing Associations happy. It then has to pay again to clean up the mess when this subsidisation brings the nation into dispute with its neighbours.
In contrast, China appears to be using parts of its fishing fleet, backed up by its ‘Maritime Surveillance’ ships, as a kind of pseudo-advance annexation squad for the PLAN. Aside from constantly provoking Japan around the Senkaku Islands, this advance guard has secured major maritime victories in the Scarborough Shoal, allowing the PLAN a way in to add a seal of permanence to the annexation. Emboldened, and seeking to extract great gains from ASEAN’s arguably weakest member whilst it is licking its wounds over Scarborough and embroiled in a dispute with Taiwan, China is as I write literally testing the waters around the Second Thomas Shoal as it seeks to evict Filipino military presence from the Spratlys altogether.
The obvious question then begs itself. Once China has bullied the Philippines out of a significant chunk of its marine territory, who is next? Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand will be asking whether they will be similarly tested. Japan, having somewhat stupidly played into the hands of Chinese chauvinism by nationalising the Senkaku Islands and not removing the remains of war criminals from the Yakushini Shrine, is now constantly looking over its shoulder at Chinese maritime encroachments that could even begin to push towards Okinawa.
For now, Taiwan does not appear to be using its fishing fleet to expand its claim on waters and, aside from diplomatic idiocy like sending warships and coast guard vessels for drills in or near Filipino EEZ waters or to engage in CGA peeing contests with the JCG (despite Ma promising he would not provoke or create regional tensions via stupid symbolic gestures as he like to blame Chen Shui-bian for), outside of their fishermen, the Taiwanese Government is not overtly acting as a catalyst of regional maritime disputes in either the South or East China Seas. How much long that will remain true, given President Ma’s strongly pro-China policies and his oft stated claims that the PRC and its territory are constitutionally included in the sovereign area of the Republic of China (they’re not), remains to be seen.
The waters of East Asia are boiling with regional nationalisms rubbing up against each other in the worst possible way. What is necessary is for all maritime nations to discuss the issue of fishing stocks and enforcing law on the seas, including clearly defining EEZs and what measures Coast Guards and maritime forces can take in the event of apprehending and neutralising poaching. Unfortunately Taiwan needs to be central to these discussions. President Ma and Xi do not represent the political wisdom and reform, or have the political capital, that is so urgently needed to make this inclusive round table a reality. It may come to pass that, by locking Taiwan into a non-state position of inevitable antagonism, the One China policy, if it is not directly the spark that ignites the fire, may prevent the parties involved from finding a joint solution to an intensifying problem.