TOKYO (AFP) - Japan and Taiwan are close to an agreement on fishing rights for waters near islands at the centre of a territorial row that has soured ties between Beijing and Tokyo, an official said on Wednesday.
The two sides have agreed in principle to establish a jointly managed zone in waters off islands controlled by Japan under the name Senkakus, but claimed by China and Taiwan as the Diaoyus, the Asahi Shimbun said.
Under the accord, trawlers from both sides will be permitted to fish an area that includes parts of the overlapping 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone claimed by both capitals.
Mr Michihiko Komatsu of the Interexchange Association, Japan (IAJ), which handles relations with Taiwan in the absence of formal diplomatic ties, told AFP they may announce an accord later in the day.
"We are in the final stages of fishing rights negotiations, and after a meeting in Taipei this afternoon, if we reach an agreement we will hold a press conference in Taipei," he said.
The joint fishing-control zone will include waters near the disputed islands "but will exclude Japan's territorial waters", he said, declining to elaborate on the deal further.
Talks over fishing rights started in 1996 but were suspended in 2009, before being resumed in November last year, he said.
Japan and China have squabbled bitterly over the sovereignty of the islands, with frequent confrontations between state vessels from the two sides since Tokyo nationalised some of the chain in September last year.
Commentators say a fishing rights deal with Taipei is important for Japan because it would remove a source of bitterness on Taiwan and help prevent it from joining hands with Beijing to jointly press Tokyo.
Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou has said "although we cannot divide sovereignty rights, we can divide resources", the Asahi reported.
The waters around the islands are considered potentially rich in natural resources, and Taiwanese fishermen claim ancestral fishing rights.