What is EEZ – Exclusive Economic Zone? It is international water, not territorial water. Territorial water is only 12 nautical miles from the baseline of a coastal state, while EEZ is set at 200 nautical miles. So what is the right and obligation of a coastal state for its EEZ?

Recently I found that President Remengesau made a contradictory statement at a press conference when he said that:

“[We] would like the U.S to be a strong partner in the Indo-Pacific Strategy which aims to ensure that there is freedom of navigation, that there is freedom of respect, so you don’t just sail through the waters of Palau without recognizing that we do have our [Exclusive Economic Zone(EEZ).”

Because of freedom of navigation, any ship can sail through Palau’s EEZ without recognition, but any ship cannot exploit natural resources in Palau’s EEZ. Coastal states have a sovereign right for only natural resources such as fish.

In this news article, President Remengesau strongly supports US (and Japan) Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy which encourages promoting cooperation with a Japan-US alliance for Indo-Pacific security. We can proceed with a “Free and Open” ocean space only if global society follows the “rule and order” such as International Law.

I am very impressed that President Remengesau makes a clear position on PRC because I have been worried about Chinese ships exploring and exploiting Palau’s EEZ. Yes, they can conduct research only with permission from the Palau government. I believe that the Palau government has specific laws which allow foreign ships to explore and exploit the natural resources in the EEZ.

My concern is that Palau law enforcement does not have capacity to provide surveillance for illegal activities such as the recent Chinese government science ship which was reportedly conducting “research” in Palau’s EEZ without permission.

These illegal activities were discovered by the USCG who has a special security arrangement with Palau. If Chinese ships sail through Palau’s EEZ, how can the Palau government determine whether these ships are innocently passing, or exploiting their valuable resources?

PNMS violates UNCLOS

In 2016, the Headquarters for Ocean Policy of the Prime Minister Office of Japan issued a report that included a comment on Palau National Marine Sanctuary, stating that PNMS violates UNCLOS. Since I had been observing PNMS under President Remengesau’s administration, I was surprised that no one from the Japanese government or any US officials had pointed out this issue to the Palau government.

I understand the capacity of the Palau government and their challenges in dealing with hundreds of treaties and international laws with only a handful of experts in their country. How about Japan? The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has at least 100 experts on treaties, with the capability to solicit advice from external experts such as academics and policy makers within Japan.

I have observed that the Palau government was only offered advice from NGOs such as PEW, who do not understand international law or have any knowledge on fisheries. I also found that no one from Sasakawa Peace Foundation has precise knowledge on UNCLOS. Furthermore, international media uses celebrities to promote PNMS, without any knowledge of international law or marine science data.

In conclusion, the EEZ is not Palau’s water, but Palau has the right and obligation to protect the resources within its EEZ, taking into perspective international laws and scientific data, and the Japan-US alliance can certainly help.  We should not forget that the world-known PICRC (Palau International Coral Reef Center) was established as a Japan-US common agenda in 1993.

Dr. Rieko Hayakawa is working on her 2nd PhD (Intl Ocean Law) at Doshisha University in Kyoto. Her first PhD (ICT4 Development) is from Otago Uni in NZ. She has launched Micronesia sea surveillance project, as well as proposed Indo-Pacific vision and maritime security concept for Abe administration. She is also a Sec. Gen of Palau Judo Kids Support Circle.

Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this article belong to the contributing author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Island Times editorial board and staff.