The death of a Taiwanese fisherman through gunfire by the Philippine coast guard in the open seas between the two countries on May 9 has dragged the nations into troubled waters.
Following the Philippines’ confirmation that its coast guard opened fire on a Taiwanese fishing boast, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou threatened that Taiwan would consider sanctions if Manila does not apologise, apprehend the killer and compensate.
“We will definitely seek justice for our fisherman. We will not rule out the possibility of taking any kind of sanctions” against the Philippines, Ma said on May 11.
Philippine presidential spokesman Ricky Carandang was quoted as saying by news agency AFP that the Philippines will not comment until an “unbiased” investigation of the incident is conducted, which has resulted in the temporary suspension of the coastguard crew involved. The Philippines has claimed, however, that the fishing boat was in their territory and the coast guard reacted per orders to tackle illegal fishing.
Ma’s swift and barbed reaction to the fisherman’s death came as public outcry and placed pressure on lawmakers to urge the government to freeze the hiring of Philippine workers as an act of protest.
Over the weekend, the internet became abuzz with netizens discussing what some call the “most serious incident” encountered between the countries.
If tensions escalate, the death of 65-year-old fisherman Hung Shih-cheng could damage bilateral trade between Taiwan and the Philippines, which stood at $10.9 billion in 2012, according to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in the Philippines, making Taiwan the Philippines’ sixth largest trading partner.
Taiwan invested an aggregate of $2 billion in the Philippines as of March 2012, the country’s eighth largest source of foreign investment.
Currently, there are over 93,000 Filipino workers and migrants in Taiwan, the third largest workforce in the country, making Taiwan the seventh top destination for overseas Filipino workers.
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Justin Calderon is a research analyst for Inside Investor based in Manila, Philippines. His work has been featured in The New York Times, Newsweek (Japan), CNN Travel, GlobalPost, Global Times and The Nation (Bangkok). Living in and out of Asia since 2006, Justin spent two years in Shanghai working for a popular B2B magazine. He also hunkered himself down in Taipei for two years to teach English and study traditional Chinese characters. He is a Mandarin and Thai reader and speaker.
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