The government of Taiwan has given the Philippines until Wednesday to apologize for the death of a Taiwanese fisherman whose vessel was fired on by the Philippine coastguard. It is also demanding compensation and the arrest of those responsible. Shall the Philippines does not respond positively, it would bear the diplomatic and economic consequences from Taiwan, one of Asia’s industrial powerhouse.
Public anger in Taiwan as fisherman shot dead
Fisherman Hung Shih-cheng, 65, was shot dead on Thursday when the Philippine coastguard vessel opened fire on his boat ‘Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28’. He was in waters south-east of Taiwan and north of the Philippines, an area considered by both countries to be their exclusive economic zone.
It is yet another political headache for the Philippines after a recent diplomatic crisis with Malaysia. A group of armed militants from the Sulu Archipelago in Southern Philippines invaded a town in the Malaysian state of Sabah last February, triggering a standoff that killed 70 people. Thousands of illegal Filipino residents were deported from Malaysia following the conflict and the ensuing security related crackdown.
But Taiwan is not Malaysia. From all angles, economically, technologically and militarily, it has a very wide lead over the Philippines. Taiwan on Sunday dispatched four Lafayette-class naval frigate and coastguard vessels to beef up patrols in waters near the Philippines, and President Ma Ying-jeou issued a 72-hour ultimatum calling for an apology or else it would freeze all Filipino work applications to Taiwan.
Taiwan dispatched navy ships to seas bordering the Philippines after the incident
There are about 87,000 Philippine domestic helpers and other workers in Taiwan and they send home hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Taiwan’s government confirmed that Filipino hackers are already targeting websites of several government agencies, including the presidential office, the defense ministry and the coastguard administration. The same groups hacked Malaysian websites during the confrontation in Sabah.
Taiwan is apparently angered by the casualty. “The government is determined to protect our fishermen,” cabinet spokeswoman Cheng Li-wen said. More than 50 bullets hit the ship, raising suspicion on the use of machine gun by the Filipino side. “This is nothing but a slaughter,” Taiwanese prosecutor Liu Chia-kai said after examining the ship.
The exact number of bullets found on Hung’s boat is 52, and it did nothing to calm the Taiwanese outrage. “This is very brutal and cold-blooded,” President Ma said on Saturday, warning that his country would consider sanctions against the Philippines amid widespread public anger towards Manila over the shooting.
Taiwanese authorities carried out a detailed inspection of the fishing boat
In Manila, Abigail Valte, a spokeswoman for President Benigno Aquino, said Saturday that authorities had launched a “transparent and impartial investigation” into the incident. She expressed hope that economic ties with Taipei would not be affected and added that the coastguard crew involved in the incident had been temporarily suspended from duty to ensure a fair inquiry.
Philippine coastguard spokesman Commander Armand Balilo said Friday the incident took place in Philippine waters and the crew had been carrying out their duties to stop illegal fishing. “If somebody died, they deserve our sympathy but not an apology,” Balilo told reporters. “We are forced to fire the shots because their fishing boat is attempting to ram into and sink our navy ship,” said coast guard chief Rear Admiral Rodolfo Isorena.
Taiwan rejected the explanation from the Philippine side. The victim’s son, who was with his father and two other sailors on the boat when the shooting took place, has insisted they did not cross into Philippine waters. Taiwanese medias called the shooting “an act of brigands” and said Taiwanese people “angrily demand compensation be paid to the victim’s family”.
The presumed location where the shooting took place
The United States has so far remain silent in the latest dispute between its two Asian allies. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell urged all parties to ensure maritime safety and refrain from actions that could escalate tensions, saying that the U.S. would await the “full and transparent” investigation promised by Manila before it makes further judgment.
China is siding Taiwan on the issue. Chinese state media on Friday devoted lengthy reports on the fisherman and his family, “the Philippines is the most ‘barbaric’ country in the South China Sea,” China’s Communist Party-run Global Times said. “If it is confirmed the Philippine navy is behind the shooting, then the mainland should show its stance by intensifying navy activities in the disputed water between the mainland and Philippines to teach Manila a lesson.”
China accused the Philippines of repeatedly shooting at unarmed fishermen. In April last year, Chinese warships blocked the Philippines from inspecting Chinese fishing boats in an area both nations claim. The Philippines has asked the United Nations in January to rule on its maritime disputes with China.
Taiwan threatens sanction against the Philippines in wake of the incident