Taiwan steps up naval patrols after Philippines fires on fishing vessel

Taipei dispatches four ships to disputed waters after Ma ultimatum to Manila over coastguard's attack on fishing boat

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 May, 2013, 3:39pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 August, 2013, 4:13am

Taiwan sent four coastguard and naval vessels to strengthen patrols in waters near the Philippines yesterday following public outrage over the shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman by Filipino coastguards.

"The government is determined to protect our fishermen," cabinet spokeswoman Cheng Li-wen said in a statement as a frigate and coastguard vessels set sail for the area where the 65-year-old fisherman was killed on Thursday.

Taiwan in a strongly worded statement late on Saturday demanded Manila apologise and compensate the victim's family or face a freeze on the hiring of its nationals.

It also asked the Philippines to bring to justice the coastguards responsible and start negotiating a fisheries agreement.

"If the Filipino government fails to respond in a positive manner within 72 hours, the hiring of Philippine workers will be frozen," said presidential office spokeswoman Lee Chia-fei.

There are about 87,000 Filipino domestic helpers and other workers in Taiwan and they send home hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

More than 50 bullets hit the 15-tonne "Kuang Ta Hsin No 28", killing skipper Hung Shih-cheng.

"This is nothing but a slaughter," prosecutor Liu Chia-kai said after examining the ship.

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou visited the victim's family on an island off the southern city of Kaohsiung yesterday and promised to pursue the strong protest against the Philippine government.

Several fishermen's groups said they plan to file a protest at the Philippine mission in Taipei today. Manila recognises Beijing, but not Taipei.

In Manila, a spokeswoman for President Benigno Aquino, said on Saturday that authorities had launched a "transparent and impartial investigation" into the incident.

Taiwan's government has come under pressure from the opposition and the media to take action, with the Philippines refusing so far to apologise and saying the coastguard was tackling illegal fishing.

George Tsai Wei, a research fellow with Chinese Culture University's Institute of Globalisation Studies, said that Ma was under tremendous pressure and that Taiwanese-Philippine relations would deteriorate if Manila refused to respond.

"Given the amount of the public outcry here sparked by the brutal killing and taking into consideration Taiwan's domestic politics and its international image, Ma should stand by what he demanded and act tough," Tsai said.

Xu Xue , a research fellow at Xiamen University's Centre for Taiwan Studies, agreed that if Manila refused to accept Taiwan's demands, Ma would take further action. Xu said he believed the accident would help Ma win public support.

"Any such external accidents would usually boost political leaders' public support and I believe that Ma should know well how to ride the waves to help boost his public approval ratings," Xu said.

Ma's is currently riding on spectacularly low poll numbers. A poll in March suggested that Ma's popularity ratings are at an all-time low of 13 per cent.

Xu said the public outcry over the killing would attract public attention and thus give Ma a chance to repair his and his administration's public image.

The incident comes at a time of heightened tensions around the region over rival claims to the South China Sea.

The mainland, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei all have competing claims to parts of the sea.

Mainland state media stood by Taiwan over the latest incident, asking Beijing to "teach Manila a lesson".