Press pick apart Taiwan-Filipino tensions

Newspapers show headlines carrying the story of a Taiwanese fisherman shot by Filipino coastguards, at a library in New Taipei City on May 12, 2013.
Image caption Taiwan press expressed concern over Manila's handling of the dispute

Regional newspapers are busy discussing the row that erupted after a Taiwanese fisherman was killed by the Philippine coast guard last week in disputed waters. In Taiwan, there are concerns that the spat may complicate the island's already strained relations with mainland China.

Commentators in the Chinese press are outraged, demanding that the Philippines is made to pay the price for its "irresponsible behaviour".

Filipino commentators, meanwhile, are unapologetic, with one paper saying that the coast guards were only doing their jobs.

'Sowing discord'

In the Taiwanese press, many commentators are worried that the Philippines is treating the island as part of China in the dispute - an approach commonly known in the region as "one China" policy.

Taipei's Central Daily News believes that it is actually driving a wedge between Taiwan and the mainland. "The Philippines is using the 'one China' policy as an excuse to be unreasonable towards Taiwan," says the paper. This view is echoed in Taiwan's United Daily News, which accuses the Philippines of "playing games to sow discord between the two sides of the strait".

Want Daily agrees. "Taiwan must co-operate with the mainland to jointly safeguard the common interests of both sides," says the paper.

An editorial in Taipei-based Liberty Times urges the Taiwanese president to resist any efforts to "dwarf" the island's stature. "If Ma Ying-jeou still does not learn a lesson, he really can no longer blame the Philippines for being rude," the paper says.

The Taiwan-based newspaper China Times believes that Taipei's foreign policy is overly dependant on Washington. The Taiwanese fishermen's safety ultimately depends on whether President Ma's government is able "to recover national security policy-making power from the US's hands and get out of the US haze hovering over Taiwan's skies", an editorial in the paper says.

The Taipei Times newspaper, meanwhile, calls for calm, arguing that "cool heads" are needed in the row with Manila. Commenting on the anti-Filipino protests in Taiwan, the paper wonders whether "the outburst of nationalism and martial spirit is truly intended to resolve the crisis or is simply an attempt to make Ma look bad".

Commentators in China do not mince their words on the Taiwan-Philippines spat. Beijing's Global Times calls the Philippines "an irresponsible country which behaves clumsily in foreign affairs" and says that it is "digging itself into a deeper hole with a rogue diplomatic policy".

State-run China Daily demands a tough response to the incident. "Given Manila's history of irresponsible behaviour and the fact that it has not received a severe punishment for such acts, both Taiwan and the mainland should make sure that this time it will not be allowed to escape without paying a price," a commentary in the paper says.

Huanqiu Shibao, the Chinese-language edition of Global Times, agrees that the Philippines deserves to be punished. "If the strength of 'lessons' taught by the two sides of the strait to the Philippines is too low, it will send a wrong signal to the Philippines," thunders an editorial in the paper.


Comments from the Philippines are subdued by comparison. The Philippine Daily Inquirer offers sympathy to the family and friends of the killed Taiwanese fisherman. But, it goes on, "the fisherman was not exactly an innocent party in the incident" as, according to the Filipino Coast Guard, its action was purely in "self-defence".

It also accuses Taipei of using migrant Filipino workers as "pawns" in the dispute. "The time may come that they will no longer need to search for employment outside our borders, and where will that leave all of you?" asks the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

A commentary in the Manila Standard Today argues that there is nothing for the Philippines to apologise for. "International law was clearly on our side and the Coast Guard acted in self-defence," it says. "An apology in diplomatese connotes we were at fault."

But on 14 May an editorial in the Manila Times adopted a conciliatory tone. The Philippine Coast Guard "was only doing its job, and had no intention of inflicting harm, much less causing the death, of the fisherman from Taiwan", it said.

"One tragic event should not permanently strain Philippine-Taiwan relations," the paper added.

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