President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday stressed the nation’s role as a regional peacemaker amid tensions between Taiwan and the Philippines over a shooting incident, and said the navy and Coast Guard Administration’s (CGA) joint patrol in the overlapping waters last week aimed to protect the safety of local fishermen, rather than being a military drill.
The combined exercise of the navy and CGA in waters about 164 nautical miles (304km) southeast of the southernmost tip of Taiwan — where the 15-tonne Taiwanese fishing boat Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28 was attacked by a Philippine Coast Guard vessel, leading to the death of fisherman Hung Shih-cheng (洪石成) — demonstrated the government’s determination to protect Taiwanese fishermen and allowed the Philippines to understand Taiwan’s stance, he said.
“Although it was a military exercise, we have no intentions of raising the tensions [between Taiwan and the Philippines]. However, our demands for the Philippine government to apologize and compensate will not change,” he said when meeting with Olivier Richard, director of the French Office in Taipei, in the Presidential Office.
Ma said the nation’s signing of a fisheries agreement with Japan last month protected the rights of fishermen in both countries and helped ease the tension in the East China Sea. He expected Taiwan and the Philippines to launch negotiations on fishery agreements soon and resolve the shooting incident.
“We’d like to engage in more exchanges with neighboring countries. Our fisheries agreement with Japan is having a positive impact on the East Sea, and the international community is welcoming such agreements,” he said.
Later, in an interview with Chinese-language broadcaster China Television aired yesterday, he said negotiations on a fishery agreement can still begin at any time, as such an agreement would provide fishermen from both sides with more guidelines and protection while operating in disputed waters.
“The incident is still under investigation, and we believe that the incident should be solved very soon,” he said.
When asked to comment on his low approval ratings in his fifth year in office, Ma said he has insisted on long-term reforms that would not receive applauds from the people in the short term, and said his administration will continue with the reform measures, including the government restructuring plans, pension reforms and tax reform for retired veterans, teachers and civil servants.
He acknowledged failing to carry out his “6-3-3” campaign pledge — annual economic growth of 6 percent, annual per capita income of US$30,000 and an unemployment rate of less than 3 percent per year — but said the government would not give up on those goals.
“The government is confronted with great challenges to meet the goals because of continuous global financial crisis. However, we haven’t given up on them, and we will work harder to realize the promise,” he said.