Go to contents

Korea-Japan Fisheries Agreement Criticized Again

Posted July. 18, 2008 08:07,   


The Korea-Japan Fisheries Agreement signed by the Kim Dae-jung administration is once again facing heated criticism, trigged by Japan’s provocation concerning the Dokdo islets.

On the Japanese government’s Tuesday decision to claim sovereignty over the Dokdo islets in its school curriculum handbook, critics point out that the wobbly bilateral fishery agreement provided an excuse to do so.

“Ulleungdo was chosen as the starting point of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and Dokdo was designated as a “middle zone” in the Korean-Japanese Fisheries Agreement. However, many people criticized the government, saying that it was not appropriate to designate Dokdo as a middle zone, given that its concept does not exist under the international law,” said Rep. Chung Mong-joon, a member of the Grand National Party`s decision-making Supreme Council, on Thursday. “I urge the government to officially notify the Japanese government the termination of the fisheries agreement.”

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs on Thursday, the current bilateral fisheries agreement was signed in September 1998, just before then President Kim’s visit to Japan, and came into effect in January 1999. Critics said that the agreement was made in a hurry ahead of Kim’s arrival in Japan in an attempt to remove obstacles of the bilateral summit meeting between Korea and Japan.

Korea and Japan had a fisheries agreement before. The first bilateral agreement between Korea and Japan was made in 1965 to recognize 12 nautical miles from the coast as the exclusive fishery zone.

However, they needed to have a new agreement as, according to the U.N. Convention of the Law of the Sea ratified by both countries in 1994, up to 200 nautical miles from the coast can be designated as the EEZ. Yet, neither of the two neighboring countries could unilaterally set their exclusive right for the zone 200 nautical miles from their shores, since many of the shores of the two countries are less than 400 nautical miles apart. In order to solve the problem, the two countries signed their second fisheries agreement, called the “New Korea-Japan Fisheries Agreement,” in 1998.

The key issue was the starting point of the EEZ. The two sides agreed to set Ulleungdo as Korea’s starting point of the EEZ and leave Dokdo as a so-called “middle zone.”

Since then, the middle zone has been the cause of dispute over the Dokdo issue. Korea interpreted it simply as a place located between Korea and Japan. On the contrary, Japan claimed sovereignty over the Dokdo islets and defined the middle zone as a provisional zone whose ownership is ambiguous.

Thus, the 1998 fisheries agreement has often been criticized for undermining Korea’s sovereignty over the islets. In April 2006, Japan attempted a hydrological survey of the waters around Dokdo without the Korean government’s permission. It is one of the well-known provocative actions that the Japanese government has taken in an attempt to make Dokdo an internationally-disputed area.

The bilateral fisheries agreement has also been embroiled in another controversy. The number of Korean fishing ships allowed to enter the Japanese fisheries was cut down at an additional negotiation of the fisheries agreement. This even made then former Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Kim Seon-kil to step down.

Disputes have kept recurring over the fisheries agreement and the islets, but the Kim administration and the Roh Moo-hyun administration insisted that the Korea-Japan fisheries agreement is irrelevant to the sovereignty of Dokdo.

“The Korea-Japan Fisheries Agreement will not affect anything about the sovereignty of Dokdo,” said former Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Oh Keo-don in 2005 when politicians called for either the termination of the bilateral agreement or renegotiation.

Shin Yong-ha, a professor emeritus of Ewha Womans University who heads the Dokdo Institute, said in a recent interview with the Dong-A Ilbo, “The sovereignty of Dokdo was mainly used as a diplomatic means of adding pressure on Korea before the 2nd Korea-Japan Fisheries Agreement. After the agreement was signed, Japan began to introduce and execute long-term bills which will allow it to occupy the islets.” “If the government has real courage, it should notify the termination of the agreement to Japan and demands renegotiation.”