Tuesday, May 14, 2013

More on the Phils/Taiwan Fisherman Mess

Delivering veggies in Tsaotun

The Taiwan Coast Guard has a couple of reports on its website about this (like to thank the anonymous commenter on a previous post). This one says the shooting occurred at "approximately 164 nautical miles south-east of Eluanbi (latitude 20 degrees 07 minutes east longitude 123 degrees 01 minutes)". The CNA graphic complete with a bit of unseemly nationalistic blood, has it located....

It is difficult for me to look at that graphic and not see the Taiwanese boats as operating in Philippines waters. In fact (read on below!) Manila has it in a slightly different location. Fortunately the CNA went out and solicited the unbiased opinions of experts from Taiwan who assured us the Taiwan boats were operating legally:
Hu Nien-tsu, director of National Sun Yat-sen University's Center for Marine Policy Studies, said that according to Article 51 of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, as a neighboring country to the Philippines, Taiwan's fishing boats have rights to legally operate in the Bashi Channel as well as rights to exercise their traditional fishing rights within the Philippines' archipelagic waters.

The article stipulates that an archipelagic state shall "recognize traditional fishing rights and other legitimate activities of the immediately adjacent neighboring states in certain areas falling within archipelagic waters."

Hu said that when disputes arise, it is necessary for the Philippines to reach bilateral agreements with Taiwan.

Liu Fu-kuo, a researcher at National Chengchi University's Institute of International Relations, also said that the Philippine coast guard officials' decision to fire at the Taiwanese fishing boat is against international law and other laws related to the sea.
Here is Article 51 of UNCLOS.
1. Without prejudice to article 49, an archipelagic State shall respect existing agreements with other States and shall recognize traditional fishing rights and other legitimate activities of the immediately adjacent neighbouring States in certain areas falling within archipelagic waters. The terms and conditions for the exercise of such rights and activities, including the nature, the extent and the areas to which they apply, shall, at the request of any of the States concerned, be regulated by bilateral agreements between them. Such rights shall not be transferred to or shared with third States or their nationals.
The Taipei Times, in an empty and jingoistic editorial the other day, also referred to UNCLOS.
By opening fire on the Taiwanese fishing boat and killing the fisherman, the Philippines has violated the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which bans use of force against any unarmed fishing boat. The Ma administration should not passively wait for “positive responses” from the Philippines.
This pious reference to UNCLOS is somewhat ironic, given that the Republic of China is not a signatory (Wiki).

The editorial refers to the South China Sea and disputed waters, but the area in question is not either. Bringing up tensions and mixing up waters east of the Philippines with waters west of them is simply an attempt to snow the reader with appeals to nationalist emotions. Sad.

I got to wondering about the whole "traditional fishing grounds" claim, which is popping up in the media. Here is a paper on the history of longline tuna fishing in Taiwan. It notes:
When tuna longlining fishing was first introduced to the Toko and Takao fishing ports, local fishers only used sail-powered boats in coastal waters. They even believed, wrongly, that sail powered longliners were more suitable to harvest tuna than motored vessels. However, the situation gradually changed after the mid-1910s when Taiwan’s tuna fishing industry gradually expanded its fishing territories to greater distances which only motored vessels could reach.
Prior to the Japanese period, ships from Taiwan were not motored and did not go far from Taiwan's coastal waters. It was the Japanese who encouraged the development of the industry, and drove its southward extension, which reached 250 miles from Taiwan only in 1928, according to the paper.

This is worth stating out loud, and it applies to the Senkakus as well: these do not appear to be "traditional" fishing grounds. Neither are the Senkakus. Both became accessible to Taiwanese only after the Japanese introduced motor technology to local fishermen and encouraged Taiwanese fisherman to venture further south. Taiwanese fishing in Philippines waters is an extension of Japanese colonial policy. The idea that they are "traditional" is simply a way to do an end run around UNCLOS so Taiwanese fisherman can continue to poach fish in other people's waters -- and in the Senkakus case, attempt to buttress China's claim to the Senkakus.

It should be mentioned that Japan and the Philippines both have formal defense treaties with Uncle Sam.

Meanwhile the President continues to demand that Manila give... (KMT news organ).
The 72-hour deadline set by President Ma for the Philippines will expire at midnight today. It demands an official response about the incident involving a machine gun shooting on the ROC fishing vessel Guang Da Xing No. 28 (廣大興28號) by a Philippine coast guard cutter, killing its skipper Hung Shih-cheng (洪石成). During interpellations in the Legislative Yuan yesterday, Foreign Minister David Lin (林永樂), stated that according to the information that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) had on hand, the government of the Philippines would issue a statement in response to Taiwan’s demands, explaining Manila’s position on the issue today.
The "tough" response of Taipei should be set against the more mild responses from Beijing to the deaths of its fisherman at the hands of South Korea and Russia in the last couple of years, a sharp observer of Taiwan pointed out. The government's demands are (CNA):
Taiwan has demanded a formal apology from the Philippines, compensation for the victim's family, an investigation into the incident and punishment for the perpetrators, as well as open fishery agreement talks with Taiwan as soon as possible.

If Manila does not issue an appropriate response by midnight Tuesday, the government said it will "immediately" suspend the processing of applications by Filipinos seeking employment in Taiwan, recall its representative to the Philippines and demand that the Philippines' representative to Taiwan return to Manila.
Taipei has already done that before, in 2011, as I noted in the post below. In fact some people are wondering aloud whether this is payback for that humiliation Manila handed Taipei two years ago. In 2006 Philippines Coast Guard boats killed another Taiwanese sailor.

The Manila Times had a report from AFP, the Philippines press being occupied with the elections there:
But Philippine coastguard spokesman Commander Armand Balilo said the incident took place in Philippine waters and the Filipino personnel had been properly carrying out their duties to stop illegal fishing.

"If somebody died, they deserve our sympathy but not an apology," Balilo told reporters.

Balilo said the incident happened just north of the main Philippine island of Luzon in the Balintang channel, which is part of the Philippines' territory and not claimed by any other country or Taiwan.

"This is part of Philippine waters," he said.

Balilo said the 30-metre (100-foot) coastguard vessel initially saw two fishing vessels and tried to approach them. He said the coastguard crew fired at the smaller of the two vessels after it tried to ram the Filipino boat.

"They fired at the machinery to disable it. They were able to disable the vessel although they were not aware at the time that somebody had been hit," he said.

Balilo said the coastguard quickly left the area after it saw a third vessel, "a big white ship", come into view.

"Our people felt threatened so they left the area," he said.
Note that the two nations locate the incident in different though close places. President Aquino appealed for calm in Taipei.

Taiwan media are reporting that there is going to be a joint investigation. Let's hope there's a video out there that can help settle this mess.

Scary and sad, so many times when I look at pieces in English about this mess, I see little or nothing about the Philippines' claim that the boat was trying to ram the Philippine Coast Guard vessel (China Post, Commentary in TT). Merely the summary that the fisherman was shot. It's as if the Philippines vessel had no motive for its action.....

The KMT news piece had a comically sad comment at the end....
In addition, Minister Lin also pointed out that the Mainland was not a positive factor in the matter of concluding a Taiwan-Philippines fisheries agreement, adding that one of the main reasons that Taipei and Manila had failed to conclude an agreement after five rounds of fisheries talks was precisely the “One China factor.” He noted that the Philippines was rather concerned about the Mainland’s views, adding that, “the Mainland has not given us a helping hand in this matter.
What? Beijing not helping Taipei in an international agreement? Who could have predicted that?

REFS: J Michael Cole's piece in The Diplomat, which mentions another aspect: an ongoing cyberwar between hackers from both countries.
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums!


Mike Fagan said...

"It is difficult for me to look at that graphic and not see the Taiwanese boats as operating in Philippines waters."

Agreed. I checked the location myself earlier this evening, and it is well within the Philipines' EEZ, whilst out toward the edge of any corresponding EEZ for Taiwan. But since Taiwan isn't even a signatory to the UN Convention, Taiwan can surely have no legal claim to any such overlapping EEZ. And nor does there appear to have been any prior bilateral agreement by which the Taiwanese fishing boat could have been there legally in any case - overlapping EEZ or not.

But there's another point, irrespective of the dubious claim about "traditional" fishing grounds which is that even if Taiwan had been a signatory to the UN Convention, any bilateral agreements with the Philipines to avoid conflicts might also have hinged on the proximity principle; and since the location of the incident is much closer to the Philipines than it is to Taiwan, the Filipino case would seem to be much stronger.

To believe the Taiwanese account, you have to somehow attribute unprovoked malice to the Philipine Coast Guard. To believe the Filipino account you only have to attribute ignorance/disregard for the UN Convention by Taiwanese fishermen. It's not a difficult choice really is it?

StefanMuc said...

Well Taiwan wasn't given the chance to sign UNCLOS, it's not that they chose to opt out (like e.g. the US). The Philippines have signed, so it doesn't seem that unreasonable to refer to the provisions the Philippines have agreed to accept.

Also having fished there since 1928 (does that date apply to the Philippines in this case?) is a relatively long time. Not sure if that's a valid comparison, but adverse possession is established after just 12 years, so calling this "traditional" may not be such a stretch.

In the case of the Senkakus it could be argued that Japan explicitly encouraged Taiwanese fishermen to fish there, so access rights (but not ownership) seem reasonably derived from that.

Having said that: demanding an apology *followed* by an investigation is just absurd ... surely the first step would be to establish what actually happened. And regardless of right or wrong, President Ma's foreign policy appears to have all the grace of a slightly intoxicated elephant.

Michael Turton said...

Yes, but his foreign policy plays well domestically.

And I totally agree. Investigation first, decision about what to do, afterwards.

Taiwan reached those waters only in the 1920s. When did it become habitual? No doubt after that. What's "traditional"? Could mean anything :).

Michael Turton said...

The ROC considers itself bound by such articles of UNCLOS that it finds convenient....

MOFA statement

Michael Turton said...

Also having fished there since 1928 (does that date apply to the Philippines in this case?) is a relatively long time. Not sure if that's a valid comparison, but adverse possession is established after just 12 years, so calling this "traditional" may not be such a stretch.

It's not really a time issue at all, at least to me. I mean, the reason they were fishing there was because it was part of a factory/colonization fishing program of the Japanese driven by modern capitalist technological and political expansion. The way I see it, there's nothing "traditional" about it.

Anonymous said...

People have perhaps forgotten that it wasn't so long ago that young Taiwanese women used to go to the Philippines to work there as maids. The way things are going, it might happen again!

In all though, the only winners in this business will be China and their lackeys.

Tommy said...

"The way I see it, there's nothing "traditional" about it." All other points aside, it all depends on how you define "traditional". Since 1928, three to four generations have passed. A 45-year-old fisherman's grandfather could have fished there, and his family could have been fishing there ever since. For a family, 85 years is a long time. Of course, if the UN wants to be useful and define the word for us, then we can come to a conclusion.

My 2c: I can't think of any reason why a Philippine ship would simply fire on a Taiwanese ship out of the blue. Violent naval behavior is completely out of character for the Philippines, which is too weak to afford provoking people left and right. And no pressure from other states, such as China exists in this case. It makes no sense unless the crew had some loose cannons (to use a pun).

If there were loose cannons aboard, the proper way to go about this, regardless of where the shooting happened, would be to investigate the situation, not escalate it into a diplomatic crisis, which really helps neither country (Taiwan may need a friend down there some day). If it is compensation that is needed, surely a nice payoff to one fisherman's family could be attained in quiet diplomacy, even with a poor country like the Philippines. The Philippines might even apologize voluntarily.

But Ma can't do the smart thing because all his royal silliness has to go on is his crappy foreign policy. This is one more reason why I frequently shake my head at Taiwan. It is such a great place, but it is not one of the world's repositories of logical thinking.

Anonymous said...

Dear blogger,

I hope you hear me with this one okay?

First, I would like to point out that the Chinese and Taiwanese media, as I have observed, has a habit of ERASING/REMOVING the province of Batanes from pictures when mentioning EEZ, the incident, "shared territory" and what not. I suspect this is to create an impression that the area is "disputed" esp the area where the incident happened.

Batanes is the northernmost province of the Philippines and people there are Philippine citizens.

For a picture where Batanes is located:


I think it really thing Batanes has to stressed because the incident happened SOUTH of the province. Which basically means, it happened DEEP IN PHILIPPINE TERRITORY. It cannot be shared nor disputed.

Also worth noting is the fact that territorial seas and EEZs are measured from BASELINE, not nearest landmass or island (you can double check this statement in the UNCLOS, it is in the UN site). The incident may have happened 43NM from Balintang island but the more pressing question is HOW FAR WAS IT FROM THE PHILIPPINE BASELINE?

If we were to estimate it in this picture, the incident happened in Philippine TERRITORIAL waters, not just EEZ

See image location:


Filipino fishermen don't go beyond the Bashi channel and we do not claim anything north of that, why are the Taiwanese trying to steal our territorial waters?

If you ask many people from Batanes, there is a dislike against illegal Taiwanese fishermen and poachers because they shoo away Filipino fishermen in their own territory.

The Coast Guard often seize illegal Vietnamese but they are not as arrogant as the illegal Chinese and Taiwanese.

Anonymous said...

By the way, here is a bigger and clearer picture of batanes as well as babuyan islands. ALL are Philippine jurisdiction


The Batan islands is the Batanes province. The Babuyan island are part of the Cagayan province. These areas are NOT disputed. But for some reason, they are either erased by Taiwan or "included" in their "EEZ"

Anonymous said...


Look at Taiwan's history. The Taiwanese Aborigines or natives are of Austronesian stock. The same genetic stock found in the Philippines, Indonesia etc.

In fact, tourists from both countries are surprised that their native inhabitants share similar cultures.

Filipinos were not only fishing in Taiwanese waters a long time ago. Some of them actually started living in that area way before the Chinese transplants who now call themselves Taiwanese.

Anonymous said...

A funny article from Taiwan "expert"


"Another Philippine academic, Pervagus, suggests that Section 4 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) justifies the Philippines' possession of the Batanes Islands. But section 4 of UNCLOS concerns archipelagic states only and the Philippines does not qualify."

--> The Philippines, not an archipelago??? Taipei Times writers must be professional liars, not journalists

Michael Turton said...

Great comments, insights,etc. Thanks, guys.

les said...

It's also rather ridiculous that Taiwan has issued a red travel alert to it's citizens. This is supposed to be used only in cases where clear and present danger to travelers in apparent. No Taiwanese is going to be kidnapped or shot while on vacation in Boracay. This is pure political retaliation, no different from the Chinese boycott of Kaohsiung etc. Disgusting.
I'm going to Cebu next week for a vacation. I'm sure there will be far less 'shout-first-think-never' idiots there than usual.

Much more rational thinking over here: http://www.thinkingtaiwan.com/

Anonymous said...

Yes, it was clearly wrong to shoot unarmed civilians. As a Filipino I appeal for sobriety on both sides. Taiwanese government also over reacted on the incident. Please dont harm our innocent workers and humiliate our government. Here in Mindanao we torelated your abusive businessmen too. It hurts us to hear that your citizens refused to sell foods to our Filipino workers. How about if we harrassed also your people here in Mindanao. Would it be good on both sides?

Anonymous said...

Yes, it was clearly wrong to shoot unarmed civilians. As a Filipino I appeal for sobriety on both sides. Taiwanese government also over reacted on the incident. Please dont harm our innocent workers and humiliate our government. Here in Mindanao we torelated your abusive businessmen too. It hurts us to hear that your citizens refused to sell foods to our Filipino workers. How about if we harrassed also your people here in Mindanao. Would it be good on both sides?

Unknown said...

From http://maxdefense.blogspot.sg/2013/05/fishingboat-shooting-incident-is-taiwan.html

"Using a combination of Taiwan's CGA report and Philippine Coast Guard sources, it appears that 4 Taiwanese fishing boats were spotted by BFAR patrol boat MCS-3001 on May 9, 2013 at around 5:00AM. The boats were hailed and approached by MCS-3001 for boarding and inspection. But instead of stopping to be boarded, all 4 boats moved away towards Taiwan's direction.

A chase ensued for more than 4 hours, with the BFAR-PCG boat giving warnings to stop using alarms or sirens, and loudspeaker annoucements. The Philippine boat made several attempts to board one of the boats but while doing so other fishing boats attempt to ram the Philippine boat. They were able to avoid collision in all those instances. This chase went on until around 9:30AM when the BFAR-PCG boat made warning shots for them to stop, but the 4 fishing boats did not heed the warning and instead continue to move away.

Around 9:40AM, the Philippine boat decided to disable the machinery of one of the fishing boats, the Guang Ta Hsin 28, by shooting at its engine and machinery room. Several shots were made using its on-board machine gun, hitting the fishing boat in several areas. One of the bullets hit the neck of 65-year old Mr. Huang Shih-Cheng who was staying in the engine room of the fishing boat, killing him in the process.

The boats continued to press on until Taiwanese CGA vessels met them to escort back to Taiwan. During the entire chase, Taiwan CGA was already informed that they were being chased by Philippine law enforcement boat.

According to the son of the dead fisherman, they did not cross waters of Philippine jurisdiction, and that no warning shots were made by the Philippine group."

I also think that if the PCG wanted to kill the fishermen, there would be 4 dead bodies riddled with bullets rather than one bullet striking Mr. Hung Shih-cheng in the neck.

Anonymous said...

May 16, 2013 at 4:17 PM Anonymous said... "It hurts us to hear that your citizens refused to sell foods to our Filipino workers. "
Not sure what incident you mentioned. If you mean the article from a facebook post which describes a restaurant that refused to sell a lunch box to a Philippine laborer, that article is probably fake news. Many people were questioned, how come the restaurant owner/staff can tell that the foreign laborer is from the Philippines and not from another Southeast Asian Country? How come that foreign laborer waited there for 1 hr and didn't try to buy food from other stores (there are many restaurants in that area and the lunch hr in Taiwan is usually 1 hr, people definitely won’t waste their time to wait for a lunch box for 1 hr ). People also found that the one who posted that article is a woman. She refuses to provide any evidence to prove it is the truth, she even closed her account. This is very weird.