by Ralph Jennings, Forbes.com
Jun. 16, 2013 (TSR) – After the shooting death of a fisherman and more than a month of diplomatic fury, Taiwan and the Philippines suddenly agreed to avoid violence when enforcing territorial rights in the ocean channel between them.
It’s the start of mending relations.
Violence pitted the two normally friendly Pacific Rim allies against each other on May 9. That day Manila’s coast guard shot a 65-year-old Taiwanese fisherman in a disputed tract of the 250 km-wide Luzon Strait. Taiwan took a series of sanctions against the Philippines, including a ban on labor imports, in retaliation for Manila’s defensive response at the time.
The nonviolence deal reached Friday answers one of Taiwan’s specific demands on the Philippines to atone for the shooting, which both sides have finished investigating with few surprises.
“One of the demands, for the speedy arrangement of negotiations on fishery matters, was designed to prevent similar incidents from recurring,” Taipei’s foreign ministry says in a statement that also heralds “concrete results” from the talks.
Taiwan eventually wants the two sides to negotiate long-term use of the fishery-rich strait. The Philippines normally holds fire when Taiwan’s fishing boats enter its ocean territory but regularly detains them.
Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou, beset by approval ratings around 20% partly because of perceived weakness against foreign governments, has made big waves to reach a deal that would let Taiwanese boats work the strait risk-free.
Taiwan has logged a total 22 arrests and detentions of its fishing boats by Philippine authorities, including another act of violence about seven years ago.
Ma is proud of a landmark accord in April with Japan, which agreed to let Taiwanese vessels trawl in 4,530 more square kilometers, easing tension in a separate sea dispute that has also netted bigger, angrier China. The Japan deal will be used as reference material to help Taiwan and the Philippines reach further agreements, the foreign ministry in Taipei says.
Friday’s talks between mid-ranking Taiwanese and Philippine envoys don’t go far enough to lift the sanctions, a foreign ministry spokesman. Preliminary only, they were held to prepare both sides for formal discussions on fishery issues.
But just the one day’s momentum points to a fast repair in relations. Taiwan and the Philippines also agreed to share maritime law enforcement procedures, find a way to notify each other fast when enforcement takes place and come up with a “mechanism” for releasing detained fishing vessels and their crews, the Taiwan foreign ministry statement says.