Philippine Sincerity Remains to be Seen
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
May 15, 2013
Summary: The 72 hour ultimatum has expired. The Republic of China has finally received a formal apology from the Republic of Philippines. Manila has agreed to indemnify us and hold fisheries talks as soon as possible. Taipei was forced to resort to military exercises, economic sanctions, and other forms of heavy-handed intimidation to extract this response. The price was extremely high. But without such tough measures, the Philippines simply would not have admitted any wrongdoing.
Full Text below:
The 72 hour ultimatum has expired. The Republic of China has finally received a formal apology from the Republic of Philippines. Manila has agreed to indemnify us and hold fisheries talks as soon as possible. Taipei was forced to resort to military exercises, economic sanctions, and other forms of heavy-handed intimidation to extract this response. The price was extremely high. But without such tough measures, the Philippines simply would not have admitted any wrongdoing.
Think back to just a few days ago. The Ma administration laid its cards on the table: diplomatic, political, and economic. It even threatened joint military exercises in the South China Sea. Clearly President Ma knew people would tolerate no more. The government essentially bet the farm. The government's attitude was tough. Nevertheless it was the hostage of volatile public sentiment. The effectiveness of its response remained limited.
Now look at the government of the Philippines. It laughed all the way through the process. It was as if the murder at sea was none of its concern. It even cited election concerns as an excuse. Its attitude is difficult to understand. A nation's law enforcement officers opened fire recklessly, killing fishermen from another country. Yet the government acted as if nothing had happened. It even refused to offer an apology. Under such circumstances, how can the Philippines maintain the rule of law and ethics? As of last night, diplomats from the two nations remained stalemated. Aquino III decided to dispatch a special envoy to Taipei to explain. The move was probably more procrastination than anything else. One need not expect too much from it.
Consider the nature of the incident. The Philippine Coast Guard and Fisheries law enforcement officials, indiscriminately machine-gunned unarmed fishing vessels, resulting in the loss of human life. Our own investigation shows that the Kuang Ta Hsing Number 28 fishing vessel was operating 60 to 70 nautical miles outside Philippine territorial waters. According to the Philippine Coast Guard, it was 43 nautical miles from Balintang Island. The two sides' stories differ slightly. But no matter which version one believes, the vessels were not inside the Philippines' 12-mile territorial waters. Their fishing operations were legal.
The Philippine Coast Guard and Fisheries officers claimed that when they attempted to board and inspect the Kuang Ta Hsing, its crew attempted to ram the Philippines Coast Guard cutter. Only then, they claimed, did Philippines personnel open fire. Their story is illogical. According to international maritime conventions, vessels from foreign countries found inside the Exclusive Economic Zone may be boarded and inspected. They may be given warnings and expelled. But officials are categorically forbidden to fire upon unarmed civilian fishing boats. The Kuang Ta Hsing was a reconditioned, like-new boat. Only five crew members were aboard. They ran into a vast number of armed men. They knew its was too late to run. Why in the world would they intentionally ram the cutter? Philippine Coast Guard personnel fired dozens of rounds. They behaved like pirates. They committed a serious violation of international law. The Philippines is going to find it difficult to evade responsibility.
Just yesterday, the Kaohsiung based Cheng Chang Fa II fishing vessel was detained because it crossed into Japanese territorial waters. The owners must pay a fine exceeding one million NT in order to recover their vessel. They can then resume fishing. Compare the practices of Japan and the Philippines. The difference is immediately apparent. ROC and Japanese claims to fishing grounds also overlap. But when they interact with each other, the rules are clear. This includes the two sides' law enforcement rules of engagement. This includes the rules fishing vessels must comply with. They all have rules they must follow. The Japanese side may seize illegal fishing vessels or use water cannons to expel them. This is also in accord with the norms of international law. There is no need to resort to the use of gunfire. Taipei and Manila must negotiate comparable rules of engagement. The two sides must agree upon rules of engagement in territorial waters that are more civilized and more consistent with reality. This will ensure the safety of fishermen on both sides.
One point is worth noting. Aquino III declared that the Philippines would deal with this incident according to the "one China principle." Aquino was clearly playing games, attempting to sow discord between the Mainland and Taiwan. But Beijing refused to take the bait. Major General Luo Yuan, a PLA hawk, publicly declared that anyone from the Philippines who shoots Taiwanese fishermen is "an enemy of the Chinese people." If the Philippines acts recklessly, he declared, then "with each provocation, we will reclaim one reef from Philippine hands." It is difficult for outsiders to guess whether the United States or Mainland China carries more weight. But the Xinhua News Agency revealed that the ROC Representative to the Philippines Pai Hsi-li brought back with him an apology from the Philippine President. This echoes the subtle role the "China Factor" played in the Taiwan-Japan Fisheries Agreement for the Diaoyutai Islands.
The two governments grappled. The two peoples also became caught up in the struggle emotionally. Netizens from both sides engaged in "keyboard warfare." They inflicted little physical damage. But they did undermine any goodwill the two sides once felt for each other. The government even played its "cease hiring Filipino workers" trump card. Individual legislators threatened "war." Some burned Philippine flags and waved protest signs. They ignored the feelings of Filipino workers on Taiwan. They may well have undermined goodwill among the two peoples. These after-effects of the incident must be addressed.
An apology is merely the first step in diplomatic etiquette. The follow-up investigation and compensation must not be slapdash and perfunctory. Otherwise, what will become of the fisheries negotiations to follow?
2013.05.15 02:12 am