Taiwan appears to have softened its stance in the dispute with the Philippines, with Minister of Foreign Affairs Timothy Yang (楊進添) saying that there was no need for Taipei to demand that the Philippines apologizes for deporting 14 Taiwanese fraud suspects to China.
Yang’s comments sparked outrage yesterday among Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers, who demanded that he step down.
Taiwan, which had repeatedly demanded a formal apology from the Philippine government since Manila deported the 14 to China on Feb. 2, seems to have changed its stance after a visit to Taipei on Monday by Philippine presidential envoy Manuel Roxas.
Roxas did not meet Taiwan’s request for an apology, saying it was “beyond his mandate.”
A “fact sheet” agreed on by Roxas and Taiwanese officials after their 12-hour marathon meeting on Monday night stated that any Philippine officials who are found to have mishandled the case would be held accountable and possibly reprimanded.
For the Taiwan side, this “would signify a kind of apology,” the statement read.
“I can’t remember any time in my diplomatic career that I’ve seen one country officially ‘apologize’ to another ... and an apology takes many forms,” Yang said on Wednesday.
Citing the example of the dispute between the US and China over a mid-air collision of two of their aircraft, Yang said Washington only told China that it was “sorry” but it never issued a formal apology.
In the Taiwan-Philippines case, the dispute sprang from an issue of judicial jurisdiction, not sovereignty, he said.
Yang said that as far as he could remember, “Taiwan and the Philippines did not touch on the ‘A’ word’ [referring to the word ‘apology’] and I hope people do not get too emotional.”
Saying “Taiwanese should be rational in their reaction to the unfortunate incident,” Yang added: “Taiwan and the Philippines have a wide range of ties and exchanges, and relations are too important to be sacrificed to a disagreement over one word.”
Several DPP lawmakers accused Yang of bringing shame to Taiwan.
“This government really makes me want to say the ‘F’ word,” DPP caucus whip Gao Jyh-peng (高志鵬) said.
The DPP lawmakers also said Philippine President Benigno Aquino III’s comments on Wednesday were a “serious setback” to Taiwan’s diplomatic efforts and they demanded that Yang step down to shoulder responsibility for the incident.
Aquino expressed optimism that the Philippine-Taiwan rift would be resolved without Manila having to apologize.
“They were asking for us to apologize and I don’t believe that there is something we have to apologize for, given the circumstances,” Aquino said after Roxas left Taipei.
Saying Aquino’s remarks “fully demonstrated that Manila has been unfriendly toward the government and people of Taiwan,” Hsieh Kuo-liang (謝國樑), convener of the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) caucus, said that under the circumstances, the Taiwanese government should “immediately freeze the hiring of Philippine workers until the Philippines changes its mind and demonstrates its ‘goodwill’ toward Taiwan.”
Council of Labor Affairs Deputy Minister Pan Shih-wei (潘世偉) said the council was ready to ban migrant Philippine workers, and local businesses had given their assurance that they would support such a ban if necessary.