Asia's Next High Seas Drama
Image Credit: J. Michael Cole

Asia's Next High Seas Drama

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The 15-tonne Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28 was docked at the Ta Fu fishing port on Siaoliouciou, off Pingtung County in Taiwan’s south. Forensic technicians were busy photographing the 55 bullet holes, some in thick parts on the port side, that had been discovered on the fishing vessel — evidence, preliminary analyses said, that a heavy-caliber machine gun was used.

Two days earlier, on May 9, the fishing boat had been fired upon by a Philippine government vessel while operating some 164 nautical miles southeast of Taiwan’s southernmost tip. The unarmed crew took cover in the cabin, but for Hung Shih-cheng, a 65-year-old Taiwanese fisherman, it was too late. He was killed when a bullet penetrated the right side of his neck.

The accounts differ. Philippine authorities claim that the fishing boat was intercepted approximately 43 nautical miles east of Balintang Island in the Balintang channel, and was therefore operating illegally in their country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ). They also contend that the Kuang Ta Hsing provoked the shooting by trying to ram the Filipino Maritime Control Surveillance 3001, an “aggressive act” that forced its crew to take defensive action.

Philippine coastguard spokesman, Commander Armand Balilo, said the coast guard fired at the machinery to disable the Kuang Ta Hsing and was unaware that a crewmember had been hit.

For its part, Taiwan countered that the incident occurred in the countries’ overlapping exclusive economic zones. Hung Yu-chih, skipper of the Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28 and son of the deceased, denies any attempt was made to ram the much larger coast guard vessel.

Taiwan and the Philippines, which have no official diplomatic ties and have overlapping claims over a series of islands in the South China Sea, have yet to ink a fisheries agreement such as the one that was signed last month between Taipei and Tokyo to regulate areas near the disputed Diaoyutai/Senkaku islets in the East China Sea.

The incident has sparked outrage in Taiwan, which argues that the excessive force used by the Philippine coast guard against unarmed fishermen was unacceptable. A handful of legislators from the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) have called the shooting an “act of war” rather than an accident, though such views are in the minority. Compounding the anger are memories of a similar incident on January 15, 2006, in which another Taiwanese fisherman was killed when a Philippine government vessel opened fire. Nobody was ever held accountable for the death.

Although there have been few public displays of anger in Taiwan over the matter, a small group of Taipei City councilors from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), accompanied by pro-independence organizations, protested outside the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO), the Philippines’s de-facto embassy in Taiwan, and threw shoes at the building, on Monday. Hundreds of members from an estimated 30 fishermen’s associations also held a peaceful protest in front of MECO later in the day, throwing eggs and burning the Philippine flag. A few passers-by shouted that Philippine workers should be expelled.

Taipei’ response has been firm, with the Ma Ying-jeou administration demanding a full investigation, an official apology from Manila, compensation for the family of the victim, and the start of negotiations over a fishery agreement as soon as possible. On May 11, Taipei issued a 72-hour ultimatum and said that if these demands were not met by midnight on May 14, Taiwan would retaliate by suspending the processing of applications by Philippine workers (there are about 87,000 of them in Taiwan), recall its representative to Manila, and expel the Philippines’ envoy. The U.S. government, which has refused to take sides in the matter, was apprised of the ultimatum before it was issued.

Taiwan’s Civil Aeronautics Administration also announced that it would hold off on an amendment to an aviation pact between Taiwan and the Philippines.

At the time of this writing, Manila’s official response has not satisfied Taipei, which has called it “unacceptable” and “frivolous.” Antonio Basilio, the Philippines’ representative in Taiwan, departed for the Philippines early on May 13 for emergency consultations in Manila. According to Taiwan’s foreign ministry, Manila was evaluating how to respond and was expected to issue an official response by Tuesday’s deadline. Taiwanese investigators, meanwhile, will depart for the Philippines later this week to initiate a joint investigation.

As the war of words intensifies, both sides have launched cyber-attacks, though it’s unlikely they were orchestrated by government agencies. Taiwan’s Presidential Office confirmed that its web site had been hacked on Sunday, and that the attacks had been traced back to the Philippines. Other government web sites, including the Ministry of National Defense, the Coast Guard Administration, and the Ministry of Economic Affairs, were also targeted, it said.

Meanwhile, several Philippine government web sites reported they had been the targets of denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks from computers in Taiwan.

In a sign of escalation, Taiwan’s Coast Guard Administration (CGA) has reinforced patrols in the area where the incident occurred with two ships, in addition to the two already there, and is considering extending its operations in the South China Sea by 100 nautical miles. Legislators have also requested that the CGA’s recently commissioned Hsinbei, a 2,000-tonne patrol ship equipped with a 40mm antiaircraft cannon, be dispatched to the South China Sea to hold exercises should Manila fail to meet Taipei’s demands.

Meanwhile, the Navy dispatched one Lafayette-class frigate to the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines on Sunday to ensure the safety of Taiwanese fishermen. Furthermore, the Ministry of National Defense announced on Monday that one Chengkung-class frigate and one Kidd-class destroyer would also head for the area this week to participate in a joint exercise with the CGA near the location of last week’s shooting.

There is no indication that the Philippine coast guard and Navy intend to respond in kind.

The Legislative Yuan also adopted a resolution on Monday calling on the CGA to intercept and board any Philippine fishing vessel entering Taiwan’s 200 nautical mile EEZ if Manila fails to meet the 72-hour deadline.

China, which claims the entire South China Sea and has its own sovereignty disputes with the Philippines, also weighed in on the incident, calling it “barbaric” and requesting an investigation.

Ironically, the risk of Chinese involvement in the dispute — Beijing never misses a chance to “side” with Taiwan, which it regards as one of its provinces, in regional disputes — will force Taipei to strike a careful balance between showing firmness with Manila and avoiding escalatory action that could compel China to take action. Already, Taiwan’s foreign ministry has stated that it will not cooperate with China in the dispute, a decision that Beijing will again wrongly attribute to the government’s fear of angering the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), although opposition to such cooperation spans Taiwan’s political spectrum.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino called for calm on Monday, but refused to comment further on the crisis, saying that comments at the presidential level risked escalating tensions.

Comments
80
TSNP
May 22, 2013 at 14:09

Intentional killer? If the killing was intentional, why not shoot everyone on board and sink the fishing vessel so there would be no witnesses?

Ralph
May 20, 2013 at 03:15

@Shawn Taylor,

You have a good point, but there is something more than that. Money matter is a more likely factor. Phillipines might have some kind of system of splitting the money penalty from the Taiwanese fishermen with the enforcement officers. That's why the Philipines enforcement officers are always in fever to hunt the Taiwanese fishing ships even the Taiwanese are not in their sea territory. This time is just another similar fever to go for penalty money but came up with fatal result. There is a lot of things Philipines must do to upgrade itself while Taiwan starts doing a lot to deal with Philipines.

Holy
May 18, 2013 at 22:42

@Errol,

Intentional shooting someone to death by dozens of bullets is the same as murder. The number of shots tells. What is the difference?

Errol
May 18, 2013 at 05:59

Homicide or murder, both are very serous matters. Difference is murder entails pre-meditation. If you can't differentiate between the two, then you operate in a very different legal system.

RollingWave
May 17, 2013 at 19:35

This isn't looking good, as the two side released compeltely conflicting version of investigations today, with Taiwan showing picture of the ship being hit by at least 40+ bullets, mostly aiming at the hull and from what should be something of a 7-8 O'clock angel (meaning the Philippine ship was most likely chasing them.) while the onboard GPS record showed that they were probably out of the Philippine jurisdiction anyway. (which if true, would be a huge huge problem when you have government ships running into someone else's jurisdiction to kill.) 

 

Meanwhile, the Philippine version remains that the Taiwanese ship clearly tresspassed and they were shooting in self defense from ramming. Though they have refused to released the video they had onboard.

The Evidence don't look promising for the Philippine's case, I fail to see how you shoot someone who's ramming you from behind to stop them from doing so. and why you would not release the video recording if it is in anyway helpful to your case.

Seeing that they are also refusing to let our investigator investigate their boat and personel , I think this is going to end very ugly.

The ROC will most likely just literally take the EEZ away, aka just parking big coast guard and naval vassels right outside the territorial waters of the Philippines and confront every PCG boat that comes around. that won't end well when they start arresting Philippine Sailor in the same waters in kind.

 

 

 

 

 

Martie
May 17, 2013 at 15:19

@VY,

You might have a point for the motive of this shoot to kill case. What you mean ransom should be a penalty for the activities such as fishing in another country's sea territory without any permission or any agreement, etc. This kind of penalty is very common. I don't mean the shooting and killing is justified or the Taiwanese ship was within Phillipines sea territory. That's something to be investigated.

 

Silence is Golden
May 17, 2013 at 02:28

@9.dashed.brain,

The more you dispute here, the more damage to your country's image. Don't keep turning around on the ramming and the number of shots issue here.Silence is golden, posting desperate comments is not.

Holes Patching Detected
May 17, 2013 at 01:35

@Pro-ph,

Please don't keep telling the raming to the Philipines enforcement ship before reliable evidence of an acknowledged investigation report comes out first. The real question is this encounter should not need more than 55 shots. Even raming does not justify 55 up shots and one death of unarmed person. Please don't play the number of shots game here. Your statement of who's going to save the PCG men if their boat sinks is a patching of big holes in your argument or some kind of laughable black humour.

Another Veteran
May 17, 2013 at 01:07

@Errol, and @Real Veteran,

I am a real veteran and I don't know who the other veterans are here. I read the other two veterans' comments and they are pretty objective.

And excuse me "Real Veteran', is it a coincidence or are you copying my writting style here? I am just being curious.

VY
May 16, 2013 at 18:36

The cold-blooded killing happened in the over-lapped EEZ between Taiwan and the Philippines.

It has nothing to do with the south china sea dispute.

The Philippines official vessel fired on the Taiwan fishing boat because it failed to seize the latter for ransom, a typical pirate behavior.

Shepherd
May 16, 2013 at 15:36

@9.dashed.brain,

Are you responding the wrong comment? Please read the original comment you reply again.

Real Veteran
May 16, 2013 at 15:22

@Errol,

Yours is not a noble question. Most commenters are here with real identity except for those defamers at the far far east or north east Asia across the ocean from the mainland.

No More Dispute
May 16, 2013 at 15:15

@9.dashed.brain

And an intentional killer is much worse than a thief, you know.

Paradise
May 16, 2013 at 15:07

@Errol,

Murder is murder. Don't make up any forsenic assumption and don't try to shift the focus here.

Kiwawa
May 16, 2013 at 14:42

@9.dashed.brain,

The party who took away an unarmed civilian's life by shooting lots of bullets is not called thief. It is called murderer. Just let me remind you.

Viet Power
May 16, 2013 at 14:31

@9.dashed.brain,

What blackmail? Are you with us here? Your comment is also based on pre-investigation one side claim again from the Phillipines. Your country's reputation is already broken long time ago, now is down to the bottom (no better than China, international news tell everyone about Phillipines from time to time). Don't just think. Do something positive. Time to do some improvement for your interantional image and just be a little and a little bit more civilized day by day from now on, hopefully. Save lives.

venze
May 16, 2013 at 10:25

President Ma questions Philippines’ sincerity in its delayed vague apology over the killing of Taiwanese fisherman. While both nations do not have any official diplomatic tie, Ma’s recall of Taipei’s representative in Manila shows the gravity of such provocative incident.

Manila should not be living in the cloud purely because of the promised support of its mighty former colonial master. Show some respect to your neighbor and it will be reciprocated.  (mtd1943, vzc1943)

Lewis R. S
May 16, 2013 at 05:59

@pinoy pride,

Excuse me. What land grabber? Cheaters? Liers? And what primitive thinkers? Don't put more salt on the victim's wound. Which point are you saying is related to and may justify this killing shooting? The primitive thinkers are obvoiously the party who shot more than 55 bulets and killed an unarmed fisherman, plus the people who try to defend the shooters by all kinds of excuses and their irrelevant FACTS.

Errol
May 16, 2013 at 01:05

Ok… this is the 3rd 'Veteran' I've seen in this article alone. Are you the same person as the previous 'Veteran Marine' and 'Veteran Naval Investigator'?

Errol
May 16, 2013 at 01:02

Agreed. Let's not try to befuddle the situation and confuse the matter as some previous posters were wont to do. We should not stoop to their standards, though I admit, I believe in playing by an opponent's rules.

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