The Philippines yesterday admitted that its coastguard fired at a Taiwanese fishing boat on Thursday, but said the action took place within its waters and that it had no idea it had killed one of the four crewmen on the boat.
The shooting triggered public outrage on the island and intensified tensions over territorial disputes around the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, claimed wholly or in part by the mainland, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.
An angry Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou condemned the Philippine government over the attack, which saw coastguard personnel aboard a Filipino surveillance vessel fire at the unarmed Taiwanese fishing boat in waters 170 nautical miles off the southernmost tip of Taiwan.
The shooting took place in the Bashi Channel, about midway between southern Taiwan and the northern Philippines, in their overlapping exclusive economic zones.
"No country should use force against an unarmed fishing boat … and foreign officials can at most board a fishing boat for inspection," Ma told reporters.
Describing the shooting as "uncivilised acts," Ma said the machine-gun shots by the surveillance vessel left more than 30 bullet holes on the vessel, killing the 65-year-old fisherman, Hung Shih-cheng.
In addition to an apology, Ma said Taiwan's foreign ministry had asked the Philippine government to punish those involved, pay compensation and ensure the tragedy was not repeated.
"We demand that the Philippines pursue the incident to the end, and we will not stop our pursuit until the issue is properly resolved," Ma said.
Taiwan's foreign ministry summoned the Philippines' representative in Taipei, Antonio Basilio, to demand an explanation and express the anger of Ma's government over the Philippines' use of force against an unarmed fishing boat. Basilio later offered "sincerest condolences and apologies" to the fisherman's family. Taipei and Manila do not have formal diplomatic ties.
Mainland Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Beijing would keep a close eye on developments, adding that it was "strongly concerned about the Philippines' repeated use of force against unarmed fishermen".
Manila agreed yesterday to investigate, while pledging increased efforts to prevent further incursions into its territorial waters. Asis Perez, director of the Philippines' Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, was quoted by Reuters as saying that the fishing boat tried to ram the 30-metre surveillance boat.
"We sympathise with the family of the fisherman who died and we assure them as well as the government of Taiwan of a transparent and impartial investigation."
The shooting dominated the Taiwanese media yesterday, with condemnation of the "barbaric act", echoing a statement on Thursday night by the spokesman for the mainland's Taiwan Affairs Office, Yang Yi .
Taiwanese lawmakers also lashed out at the Philippines for allowing its coastguard to repeatedly harass Taiwanese fishermen, including the killing of another fisherman in 2006.
Additional reporting by Raissa Robles in Manila