TAIPEI-MANILA ROW: Observers offer contrasting views about exit strategy

By Chris Wang  /  Staff reporter

Mon, May 20, 2013 - Page 2

Political observers yesterday offered contrasting opinions about Taiwan’s “exit strategy” for its diplomatic row with the Philippines over the death of a Taiwanese fisherman.

Former presidential adviser Koo Kwang-ming (辜寬敏), who runs a fishing business in the Marshall Islands and is familiar with Taiwan’s fisheries issues, in response to media queries, advised President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration to push the envelope by asserting Taiwan’s rights within its 200 nautical mile (370km) exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Since Manila refused to recognize Taiwan’s EEZ because of its “one China” policy, Koo said, Taiwan should send vessels to protect Taiwanese fishing boats, block Philippine fishing boats from entering the EEZ and detain those Filipino fishermen who enter the EEZ to force Manila agree to negotiate a fisheries agreement, which the Philippines has been refusing to do for decades.

Extra pressure is needed, Koo said, to resolve the bilateral dispute over the death of 65-year-old Hung Shih-cheng (洪石成), who was shot by Philippine Coast Guard personnel on May 9.

Escalation of the dispute and an increase in animosity between both sides is unwelcome and it is not too late to open another round of negotiation after Taiwan bungled the first round of talks, National Taipei Medical University professor Chang Kuo-cheng (張國城) said.

Resorting to military measures simply because of Taiwan’s overwhelming advantage in military capability would “likely give the impression that Taiwan is prepared to bully its Asian neighbors like China does,” Chang said.

Ma’s hardline position would not be helpful in clearing up the shooting incident and sanctions imposed by Taipei are unlikely to cause major inconvenience for Manila, Chang added.

He urged the government to do its best to re-open bilateral talks with Manila about fishing and be creative with a possibly mutually beneficial arrangement, such as special fishing arrangements for fishermen from Pingtung County’s Siaoliouchio (小琉球) and the Philippines’ Batan Islands.

Meanwhile, Chang Jung-feng (張榮豐), a former National Security Council deputy secretary-general, wrote on his Facebook page that the biggest mistakes made by the Ma administration were its advance announcement of planned sanctions, making a military exercise in the Bashi Channel a non-live fire drill and shutting down communication channels by recalling its representative to Manila and expelling Antonio Basilio, Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) director and MECO Chairman Amadeo Perez, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III’s personal envoy.

Taiwan’s decision to issue a 72-hour “ultimatum” rather than adopting a brinkmanship strategy was in question, he added, and the worse decision was letting the Philippines know what the consequences would be after the deadline, which was why Manila was not intimidated by the sanctions.

A better strategy would have been to impose punitive measures without advance notice, according to the progress of negotiations, he said.