WASHINGTON: The United States on Wednesday urged Taiwan and the Philippines to resolve a dispute after the killing of a Taiwanese fisherman, amid concern over rising tensions between its two allies.
Taiwan has slapped sanctions on the Philippines, including a ban on the hiring of new workers, and rejected an apology by President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
“We’re concerned by the increase in tensions between two neighboring democracies and close partners of the United States in the Asia-Pacific region,” State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said.
“We urge the Philippines and Taiwan to take all appropriate measures to clarify disagreements and prevent recurrence of such tragic events,” he added.
Washington also urged both sides “to ensure maritime safety and to refrain from actions that could further escalate tensions.”
Maritime tensions are already high over rival claims in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), adjacent to where last Thursday’s shooting took place.
China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei all have competing claims to parts of the strategic and resource-rich maritime region.
Ventrell said “it appears the incident took place in or near disputed waters, where the Philippines and Taiwan both claim fishing rights.”
“The United States does not take a position on the proper location of a maritime boundary in that area,” he stressed.
Taiwan on Thursday staged a military exercise in waters near the northern Philippines in response to the killing of the fisherman, after rejecting repeated apologies for the death.
The Philippine Coast Guard shot dead Hung Shih-Chen, 65, last week after they said his vessel illegally sailed into Philippine waters. Outrage in Taiwan at the incident has grown amid a perceived lack of remorse in Manila.
A flotilla of one destroyer, two frigates and four coast guard ships sailed to the waters near Bataan island to press Taiwan’s territorial claims in the area, defense authorities said.
Taiwan’s Foreign Minister David Lin and the fisherman’s family refused to meet a personal representative sent by President Aquino in a bid to contain the diplomatic fallout.
He was due to return to Manila later Thursday.
“I came to convey the president’s and the Filipino people’s deep regret and apology over the unfortunate and unintended loss of life,” Amadeo Perez told reporters at the airport.
Perez is chairman of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office which handles relations with Taiwan in the absence of diplomatic ties. The Philippines, like most countries, formally recognizes China over Taiwan.
Taiwan has deemed it “unacceptable” that the death has been described as unintended by the Philippines.
Tensions mounted after Taiwan on Wednesday slapped sanctions on the Philippines, including a ban on the hiring of new workers, a “red” travel alert urging Taiwanese not to visit the Philippines and the suspension of exchanges between high-level officials, trade and academic affairs.
Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou reiterated on Thursday that the Philippines should take the responsibility over the fisherman’s death.
“I do hope they [the Philippines]will understand they have to be responsible in the international community. Shooting unarmed and innocent people in the open seas is not an act tolerated by civilized nations,” Ma said.
Malacañang on Thursday said the Philippine government would pay compensation to the family of Hung.
Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Perez conveyed Manila’s offer of financial assistance to Taiwanese officials.
The Philippine government appealed to the people of Taiwan to refrain from hurting Filipinos following reports that some overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are being harassed by their employers over the shooting incident.
Lacierda urged the Taiwanese to treat Filipinos with decency.
“The actions done by some Taiwanese nationals are isolated incidents and do not represent the Taiwanese people as a whole. We believe and we respect our Taiwanese friends,” he said
“But let me also again appeal to them, to the Taiwanese people, to refrain from hurting or making our Filipino compatriots there as instrument of their anger. It does not sit well with anyone. And as the host to our Filipinos there, we would expect that they will be treated decently as we do treat their Taiwanese nationals here decently,” he added.
Taiwanese probers here
A team of Taiwanese investigators arrived in Manila on Thursday to hold a separate inquiry of the incident.
The delegation is led by Chen Wen-Chi, director of the International and Cross Strait Legal Affairs, and Perry Pei-Huang Shen, director general of the Department of Treaty and Legal Affairs, of the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, respectively.
The Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office said the team is also composed of police and maritime officials. The group had been coordinating with Philippine authorities and had with them documents and records of interviews with the fishing crew.
AFP, Catherine Valente and Benjie L. Vergara