TAIPEI: Taiwan and the Philippines have signed an agreement pledging non-violence in disputed fishing zones, Taiwanese authorities announced Thursday, in what analysts say is an important step to defuse tensions over territorial maritime disputes.
The pact, signed earlier this month but announced Thursday, comes after more than two years of talks following the fatal shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman in disputed waters off the Philippines, an incident that dramatically soured relations between the two countries.
The territorial disputes between Taiwan and the Philippines also stretch to the South China Sea where a number of other nations including China have overlapping claims.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry said the agreement “upholds the spirit and principles underlying the South China Sea Peace Initiative” launched by President Ma Ying-jeou earlier this year, which called for peaceful dealings in disputed areas.
The ministry did not specify which waters were covered by the new agreement.
“After several rounds of negotiations in the past two years, Taiwan and the Philippines concluded the Agreement Concerning the Facilitation of Cooperation on Law Enforcement in Fisheries Matters,” the foreign ministry said.
Under the agreement, both sides pledged to avoid using violence or unnecessary force when enforcing the law. An emergency emergency notification system will also be established and detained vessels and crew will be released within three days.
The foreign ministry said the new measures would “effectively reduce fisheries disputes in the overlapping exclusive economic zones and protect the rights and interests of Taiwanese fishermen operating legally”.
However, they could not agree on the zone in which the Philippines would allow Taiwanese boats to fish — officials will meet again early next year to discuss the issue, the ministry said.
Analysts said the pact could set a code of conduct for claimants of the South China Sea.
“This agreement sets a good example to countries in the region that… the two countries won’t use force to settle disputes and can sit down to talk and work out some measures acceptable to both,” Song Yann-huei, a researcher with Taiwan’s top academic body Academia Sinica, told Agence France-Presse.
Tensions are high in the South China Sea as smaller nations have been rattled by Beijing’s increasing assertiveness there in recent years.
US President Barack Obama on Wednesday repeated Washington’s demand that China halt any further land reclamation and militarisation in the sea while meeting Philippine President Benigno Aquino on the sidelines of the APEC meeting in Manila.
APEC members the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have rival claims to parts of the sea, which is also believed to sit atop vast oil and gas resources.