Taiwan and the Philippines have inked an agreement covering the cooperation of law enforcement agencies in fishing matters in overlapping waters earlier this month, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs revealed yesterday.
The ministry made the announcement hours after Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Bruce Linghu (令狐榮達) said at the legislature that concrete developments had been made in Taipei’s negotiations with Manila on the agreement and that they would jointly publish an accord “at an opportune time.”
Council of Agriculture Minister Chen Bao-ji (陳保基) later revealed that the treaty was signed three weeks ago and that the decision to postpone the announcement was made to avoid causing trouble on the South China Sea issue during the APEC summit in Manila, which is to end today.
“After several rounds of negotiations over the past two years, Taiwan and the Philippines concluded the Agreement Concerning the Facilitation of Cooperation on Law Enforcement in Fisheries Matters on Nov. 5,” the ministry said in a press release.
The ministry said the pact was signed in Taipei by Representative to the Philippines Gary Lin (林松煥) and his Philippine counterpart, Antonio Basilio, at a ceremony witnessed by the two nations’ heads of fisheries agencies and Manila Economic and Cultural Office chairman Amadeo Perez.
The agreement consists of seven articles and three consensuses that were implemented prior to its signing: avoiding the use of violence or unnecessary force; establishing an emergency notification system; and a prompt release mechanism.
At an impromptu press conference later yesterday, Minister of Foreign Affairs David Lin (林永樂) said Taiwan and the Philippines held the first technical working group (TWG) meeting immediately after the agreement’s signing to complete the formality of an exchange of letters and to work out the details on some issues.
“The meeting reached a consensus on two mechanisms, including a one-hour advance notification to the other party and prompt release of detained vessels and crew within three days,” David Lin said.
According to the foreign ministry, the mechanisms require Manila to notify Taipei’s fisheries, coast guard agencies and representative office one hour before taking law enforcement action against a Taiwanese fishing vessel believed to be illegally operating more than 24 nautical miles (44.5km) off the Philippines’ coast where both parties’ economic zones overlap.
Should the fishing vessel be found to have broken the law and subsequently detained, it must be released within three days after posting reasonable bond or payment consistent with the law of the arresting party.
David Lin said that while both parties failed at their first meeting to reach a concord on the issue of Taiwanese boats operating between 12 and 24 nautical miles seaward of the Philippines’ baseline, the matter is to be deliberated again at the second TWG event, which is expected to be held in Manila in January or early February.
“In the meantime, the area will remain at the ‘status quo,’ but our coast guard ships will continue their efforts to protect Taiwanese fishing boats there,” David Lin said.
Asked if the delayed announcement was to avoid disrupting the APEC summit or the Nov. 7 landmark meeting between President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) in Singapore, David Lin said it was because there were some domestic administrative procedures for both sides to go through.
“We had already agreed to make the announcement either yesterday or today,” he added.
However, a report published yesterday by the Central News Agency quoted a Philippine government official, who requested anonymity, as saying that the Philippines had asked for the news to be withheld due to the APEC meeting.
Manila wanted to avoid irritating China or the likely scenario of it boycotting the leaders’ summit, given that Sino-Philippine ties have soured recently because of territorial disputes in the South China Sea, the official said.
In response, Donggang Fishermen’s Association chief executive Lin Han-chou (林漢丑) said consensuses should also be made between Taiwan and the Philippines on bilateral cooperation in their overlapping waters.
“While the three consensuses included in the treaty are plausible, both governments should work to reach an understanding on cooperation in their overlapping economic zones, as that is where most Taiwanese fishing boats have been detained,” Lin Han-chou said.
Liouciou Fishermen’s Association chief executive Tsai Pao-hsing (蔡寶興) said the government should hold public hearings and solicit opinions from fishermen before signing any deals, or the agreements might not meet fishermen’s needs.
Taipei and Manila have been negotiating an agreement on maritime law enforcement cooperation since 2013, as part of their efforts to improve relations after Philippine Coast Guard officers fired upon a Taiwanese fishing boat on May 9 that year, killing 65-year-old Taiwanese fisherman Hung Shih-cheng (洪石成) in waters where the two countries’ exclusive economic zones overlap.
The shooting sparked outrage in Taiwan and prompted the government to impose sanctions against the Philippines.
Additional reporting by CNA
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