Taiwan rejects Manila apology for fisherman death

Published: 15th May 2013 12:38 PM  |   Last Updated: 15th May 2013 12:38 PM   |  A+A-

Taiwan slammed Manila's apology for the shooting death of a Taiwanese fisherman as informal and insincere, and said Wednesday it is recalling its representative and will discourage travel to the Philippines.

The shooting has focused renewed attention on fishing disputes in and around the South China Sea, which have turned the area into one of the region's most tense. It has also brought to the fore China's efforts to make common cause with Taiwan, which split from the mainland amid civil war in 1949.

The Philippine apology was made Tuesday to the Taiwanese people, but not the Taiwanese government, with which Manila maintains only quasi-official relations. Like all but a handful of countries, it maintains full diplomatic ties with the communist government in Beijing.

The Taiwan foreign ministry did not release the precise language of the Philippines statement on the fisherman's death, except to say it expressed "deep regret and apology to the Taiwanese people for the unfortunate incident."

Philippine coast guard personnel opened fire on a Taiwanese fishing vessel in disputed waters in the Bashi Strait off the northern Philippines last Thursday, killing the 65-year old fisherman. The Philippines has acknowledged that its coast guard personnel were responsible, but said they were acting in self-defense because the Taiwanese fishing vessel was about the ram a Philippines fisheries department ship that was carrying coast guard personnel.

Premier Jiang Yi-huah said Taiwan was displeased with the apology delivered by the Philippine representative office in Taipei, citing language that he claimed reflected a desire by the Philippines government to distance itself from the affair. Jiang also professed unhappiness with the source of compensation money the family of the fisherman will receive— the Filipino people rather than the Philippines government itself.

"The shooting was conducted by one of its civil servants, and its government could not evade the responsibility," Jiang said, adding that Taiwan wants to be informed about whether the guilty party or parties will be charged, jailed or dismissed.

In Manila presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda declined to comment on the apology issue, saying deliberations were ongoing.

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou has not spoken directly about the apology, but his spokeswoman called it "not serious, only trying to placate Taiwan, full of vague language, lacking in sincerity."

Jiang confirmed that a previously scheduled military exercise involving the coast guard, the navy and the air force will go ahead Thursday in the Bashi Strait, in the general area where the Taiwanese fishing vessel was fired on.

He also said a hiring freeze of Philippine workers in Taiwan has taken effect.

Approximately 87,000 Filipinos are employed on the island, many in the manufacturing sector, where their English-language skills are seen as a boon to the island's export-oriented high-tech industries. Overall there are about 400,000 foreign workers in Taiwan.

Beijing has tried to make common cause with Taiwan on the fisherman's death, part of its efforts to emphasize its claims of sovereignty over the island of 23 million people. Taiwan has so far resisted those attempts.

On Wednesday the spokesman for the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council in Beijing repeated the mainland's condemnation of the Philippines' handling of the incident.

"It is the shared responsibility of both the mainland and Taiwan to safeguard the interests of compatriots across the strait," said Yang Yi. "We have urged Philippines to investigate the incident, punish the murderer and give a satisfactory explanation to the victims."

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