Playing into Beijing’s hands
The recent strafing of a Taiwanese fishing vessel by the Philippine Coast Guard on Thursday last week has — let us hope briefly — opened the Pandora’s box of maritime claims in the South China Sea.
A reporter on Monday questioned US Department of State spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki about whether the incident — which resulted in the death of Taiwanese fisherman Hung Shih-cheng (洪石成) — violated the terms of the 2002 Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.
Psaki evaded the issue.
However, it is important to note that the declaration’s signatories did not officially ratify the treaty and furthermore, Taiwan is not one of the 11 countries that signed the declaration because it has no official affiliation with ASEAN.
Like the other ASEAN countries, the Philippines observes the “one China” policy, which means that, although the fishing vessel in question had set sail from Pingtung County, in the eyes of the Philippines, the vessel was essentially Chinese, not Taiwanese.
Since China’s recent territorial claims to vast swathes of the South China Sea essentially violate the nine-dash line, the Philippines has viewed China’s presence in disputed waters as provocative.
Consequently, tensions in the area have been on the rise, as evidenced by the more recent standoff between China and the Philippines over the Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island, 黃岩島) in April last year.
Thus, Taipei’s response to the shooting can be nothing more than a show of words and pseudo-nationalist protestations. It is really up to Beijing to do the talking for President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).
However, China will not do anything officially because the Taiwanese government does not recognize Taiwan as part of China. Officially, China will keep its mouth shut as a kind of tacit punishment of Taiwan.
Unofficially, both Taiwan and China are acting together to create problems for the Philippines.
As Yu-Wen Chen (陳玉文) and Joey Ying Lee (李穎) said in a Taipei Times opinion piece (“Netizens fire back at Philippines,” May 15, page 8): “Netizens from Taiwan and China have been using distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against the Philippine government ... [T]he shooting has also triggered outrage among Chinese netizens … who consider Taiwan to be a part of China [and] believe it is necessary to voice support for their brethren in Taiwan.”
Thus, putting aside for a moment the tragedy of Hung’s death, Taiwanese should note that the anti-Chinese mentality of the Philippines’ defensive policies was created by Beijing’s recent provocations before they allow themselves to be swept up in a dangerous nationalist fervor against their neighbor to the south.
Eventually, in fact, very soon, Taiwan must deal with its international profile and face up to the reality that the world, including the UN, perceives it to be a province of China, and that whatever international disputes China enters into, Taipei will end up siding with, and not against, Beijing.
Hung’s killing was — whether accidental or intentional — an act of maritime hostility consistent with international warfare.
Throughout the ages, this kind of stupidity has triggered devastating wars.
The government presently occupying the seat of power in Taipei is using this incident to galvanize the Taiwanese citizenry into fanning the flames of nationalism, which does nothing more than quench the fires of liberty smoldering outside the periphery of international collusion against Taiwanese independence.