The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday that it will press on with negotiations with Manila on fishing issues to protect Taiwanese fishermen still vulnerable to arrest in waters claimed by both Taipei and Manila.
“We hope [our] fishermen will be able to operate in a safe environment,” ministry spokesperson Anna Kao (高安) said. “We also hope to establish a fishing order for fishermen from both sides.”
Taiwan and the Philippines have begun talks on fishing rights in waters where the two countries’ exclusive economic zones overlap that they hope will lead to a formal fisheries agreement.
Preliminary understandings were reached in the first meeting on Friday last week, but Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) Chairman Amadeo Perez Jr said on Monday that the Philippines would still seize and detain Taiwanese fishing boats that enter its waters.
Establishing rules of engagement in waters separating Taiwan and the Philippines gained urgency after a Taiwanese fisherman was shot dead by Philippine Coast Guard officers on May 9 in waters about 40 nautical miles (70km) east of Balintang Island.
Manila has contended that the Taiwanese boat was poaching in its waters, while Taipei says that the boat was operating in Taiwan’s exclusive economic zone.
In the meeting on Friday, the two sides reached an initial consensus on several issues, including not using force to police fishing grounds, but they did not address the more sensitive issue of where Taiwanese fishermen can operate.
Kao yesterday said both sides will continue to negotiate fishing issues and discuss how to establish fishery cooperation and build a mechanism that will enable each side to notify the other in the event of an incident.
She also reiterated that the government will continue its efforts to protect Taiwanese fishermen and will do everything it can to seek justice for the family of Hung Shih-cheng (洪石成), the fisherman killed in the Philippine attack.
In the wake of the May 9 incident, Taiwan demanded that the Philippines issue a formal apology for the shooting, compensate Hung’s family, punish those responsible for his death and begin fishery talks to prevent any recurrence of similar incidents.
The meeting on Thursday last week witnessed the first negotiations on fishery cooperation held by the two sides since the fatal shooting and was seen as a positive response from Manila to Taiwan’s demand for fishery talks.
A second meeting is expected to be held early next month in Taipei and will cover the definition of areas in which fishermen can operate and seek to establish fishing guidelines to maintain order, said Benjamin Ho (何登煌), director-general of the ministry’s Department of East Asian and Pacific Affairs.