Beyond Hard and Soft:
Three Rules for Dealing with the Philippines
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
May 16, 2013
Summary: The Ma administration has refused to accept the Philippines' perfunctory
response to our ultimatum. It has imposed a freeze on Filipino workers
and recalled its representative in the Philippines. When Philippines
special envoy Amadeo Perez arrived on Taiwan, the ROC Minister of
Foreign Affairs noted Perez's failure to express any position. Premier
Chiang then initiated a second wave of eight sanctions. Coupled with
today's military exercises, tensions in Taipei-Manila relations continue
Full Text below:
The Ma administration has refused to accept the Philippines' perfunctory response to our ultimatum. It has imposed a freeze on Filipino workers and recalled its representative in the Philippines. When Philippines special envoy Amadeo Perez arrived on Taiwan, the ROC Minister of Foreign Affairs noted Perez's failure to express any position. Premier Chiang then initiated a second wave of eight sanctions. Coupled with today's military exercises, tensions in Taipei-Manila relations continue to escalate.
The fact that a single attack on a fishing vessel has triggered such a massive response is regrettable. The main reason is that the Philippine government has long evinced contempt for the people of Taiwan. Its response lacked sincerity. Last night the Philippines Representative to Taiwan Antonio Basilio, consulted with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He repeatedly changed his story. He strung our side along. He prevaricated. From beginning to end, he refused to offer a clear apology. He left the government and the people with the feeling they had been bullied. If the government accepts such a flagrant evasion, normal exchanges between the two countries will be impossible. The public will not tolerate such an affront to its dignity.
The Ma administration imposed two waves of eleven sanctions. The public response suggests that most people support the administration's actions. When the fishing vessel shooting incident occurred, President Ma initially hoped to seek justice through peaceful means. But when peaceful means failed, he was forced to get tough. When the incident first occurred, this newspaper called on the government to make a strong case rooted in logic. We urged everyone to remain calm. We urged everyone not to be stampeded by populist demagoguery, or swayed by personal feelings. The situation has since developed to where it is today. We continue to make the same appeal. We hope the government will remain resolute. We hope that the public will provide it with support. We hope that everyone will work hand in hand. After all, during such a diplomatic, economic, trade, and military campaign, only those who endure will prevail.
The Taipei vs. Manila confrontation is not that unfamiliar. Two years ago, Taipei and Manila clashed over a criminal suspect from Taiwan whom the Philippine authorities extradited to the Mainland. The Philippines President also sent a special envoy to Taipei. He too used the term "regret," instead of offering a genuine apology. Outraged, our side announced a freeze on Filipino workers entering Taiwan. After a month of dithering, the Philippines finally punished its immigration officials for dereliction of duty. Only then did our government lift the freeze on Filipino workers seeking work on Taiwan. As we can see, state-to-state negotiations require both time and wisdom. Neither is dispensable.
Consider the issue at a deeper level. Relations between the two countries have turned out the way they have due to both internal and external political factors. When the shooting incident occurred, the Philippines was holding midterm elections. Naturally it dared not treat the matter lightly. Now that the Aquino government has scored a major election victory however, it is complacent. Asking it to bow and scrape is clearly going to be difficult. The Aquino government has been reckless. It has undermined its own national interests, and hurt the feelings of the public on Taiwan. On the Taiwan side, the anniversary of President Ma's May 20 inauguration is just around the corner. This coincides with a downturn in his approval ratings. He desperately needs to change his image of weakness by adopting a tough diplomatic posture. He desperately needs to win public support. As a result, he has increasingly stepped up the pressure. But this has made diplomacy the handmaiden of domestic politics.
Diplomatic channels may be more opaque. But the language of diplomacy is more elevated. It provide more room for maneuveuring. This often yields better results. If all negotiations require crossing the "t"s and dotting the "i"s, and are open for public inspection, they are certain to provoke public dissatisfaction and dissent. Consider for example, the repatriation dispute two years ago. Then Foreign Minister Timothy Yang said critics should not quibble over whether the Philippines apology was sufficiently sincere. There are many ways of offering apologies. The term "apology" can be used in so many different ways. The Ma administration has set a multitude of conditions for an apology. But if the Philippine expresses regret in a way our people cannot accept, how will it all end?
Fortunately, in this dispute between Taipei and Manila, the ruling and opposition parties, blue and green alike, are on the same page. They are unanimous. This means the government has strong backing. The public is in an uproar. The government must be careful. It must adhere to three principles. First, the government may find itself in a stalemate. But the public's feelings must not be hurt. Secondly, the government must know just how strong a hand it holds. It must avoid injuring itself. Thirdly, the government must remain resolute, but not engage in reckless gambles. It must rise above toughness vs. weakness. It must know when to attack and when to defend. It must know how to handle itself. Only then can it score points in the debate.
President Ma and Premier Chiang took tough actions yesterday. But they merely prove that consultations between our Foreign Minister and Antonio Basilio the night before were futile and misleading. Think about it. We clearly knew the other side was stringing us along. They were constantly changing their story. Yet Lin Yung-le repeatedly tried to put a positive face on the talks. He conveyed an extremely confusing message to the public. The press conference revealed the deviousness of the Philippines side. It also revealed impotence and poor judgment on our side. That Taipei-Manila relations have come to this, reveals deeper and more serious problems within our own foreign ministry.
2013.05.16 04:02 am