Taiwan’s foreign ministry gave the Philippines a 72-hour deadline, effective Tuesday, to apologize publicly for an incident Thursday in the Luzon Strait that separates the two fishing-intensive regions. The Taiwan government says official Philippine personnel fired on a boat in overlapping ocean economic zones, killing a 65-year-old local fisherman. Taipei is now threatening sanctions against Manila.
Manila has expressed condolences to the deceased man’s family but is holding off on any possible apology until it finishes an investigation. Raymond Wu, managing director with the political risk consultancy e-Intelligence in Taipei, says Taiwan will hold out for more.
“I do take the government’s word at face value that there will be some economic sanctions against Filipino-Taiwan relations," said Wu. "I’m sure there will be something that the government will do.”
Both Taiwan and the Philippines face domestic political pressure that may affect the outcome of their dispute. Taiwan’s president, Ma Ying-jeou, has been criticized for being weak on foreign policy as its longtime political rival Beijing gains clout worldwide with China's large, fast-growing economy.
To show strength, Taipei says it would recall its top diplomat in Manila and expel the Philippine counterpart in Taipei. It might also curtail Philippine migrant work contracts, a move that may impact 88,000 Filipinos now in Taiwan. Migrants earn higher wages in Taiwan than at home but less on average than locals, saving money for businesses in Taiwan.
On Thursday, China supported the call for an apology, with Beijing’s top Taiwan affairs agency calling the incident “barbaric.” China has long claimed self-ruled Taiwan as part of its own territory, but the two sides have gotten along better since President Ma took office in 2008 on pledges to lay aside political disputes.
In the Philippines, President Benigno Aquino's ruling party was facing midterm elections on Monday, and an apology before votes are counted could hurt the party’s image as hundreds of legislative seats are being contested. Aquino is seen as tougher on foreign policy than his predecessors, standing up to Beijing last year in a sovereignty dispute over the South China Sea.