- The Washington Times - Monday, May 20, 2013

Taiwan and the Philippines are embroiled in a major diplomatic dispute after the Philippines coast guard fatally shot a Taiwanese fisherman in disputed waters earlier this month.

Taiwan has imposed sanctions on the Philippines, withdrawn its representative from Manila and frozen visas for Filipino workers. It also has conducted naval drills in response to the May 9 incident that killed 65-year-old Hong Shi-cheng.

The attack has created a diplomatic headache for the United States, which has mutual defense treaties with Taiwan and the Philippines. The State Department has urged both sides to settle the conflict peaceably.

Details of the fisherman’s killing are still in question.

The Philippines coast guard says its crew acted in self-defense, believing the Taiwanese fishing boat was trying to ram its vessel. A Taiwanese investigation found 59 bullet holes in the fishing boat.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino last week sent an envoy to Taiwan to “convey his and the Filipino people’s deep regret and apology” to Hong’s family.

Taiwan rejected an apology as insincere because it characterized Hong’s death as an “unfortunate and unintended loss of life.”

Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou described the killing as “cold-blooded murder.”

“At this moment, our focus is not on an apology,” said Frank Yee Wang, a spokesman for the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Washington. “We hope that the Filipino side can agree to a transparent investigation.”

Mr. Wang said Taiwan would welcome a joint investigation.

Philippines Justice Secretary Leila de Lima told reporters in Manila on Monday that her government cannot conduct an official joint investigation because the Philippines has diplomatic relations with mainland China, not Taiwan. She offered to “cooperate” with Taiwanese investigators.

Taiwan also wants the Philippines to offer a formal apology, provide compensation and negotiate a new fishery agreement.

Mr. Wang said the Taiwanese military drills in the Bashi Channel that separates Taiwan from the Philippines were not intended as a provocation. He called it a response to the public furor in Taiwan over Hong’s death.

“It was just to show to our people that our government will protect their rights in our waters,” he said.

Philippines officials are worried that Filipino workers in Taiwan risk an angry backlash because of the anger over Hong’s death.

The Philippines envoy to Taiwan, Amadeo Perez, said his government identified at least one case in which a Filipino was beaten with a baseball bat. He advised Filipino workers to eat at home and avoid going out onto the streets.

Taiwanese officials, including Premier Jiang Yi-huah, have urged the Taiwanese public to show restraint.