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PH mulls fisheries deal with Taiwan

05:04 AM June 18, 2015

The government is studying a draft fisheries agreement with Taiwan as tensions in rich border fishing grounds reemerged two years after the Filipino coast guard shot dead a Taiwanese fisherman.

While the proposed deal will not define borders, it will set protocols on the arrest and detention of fishermen, Philippine Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said.

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“The mechanism will provide guidelines for incidents at sea,” Jose told a news conference.

“It will not be an agreement on maritime boundary delimitations.” The draft agreement was prepared by the trade representatives of the two parties, which have no formal diplomatic relations.

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Manila recognizes Taipei’s rival Beijing, which considers Taiwan its province.

Fisheries-related scrapes between the two Asian neighbors have heated up in recent months.

A Filipino Coast Guard ship attempted to arrest a Taiwanese fishing vessel off the Batan Island group this month, but the Taiwan coast guard intervened, resulting in a four-hour standoff.

Television network ABS-CBN aired Wednesday footage of the June 6 standoff between Filipino and Taiwanese coast guard ships, which ended with the Taiwanese vessel turning back after a tense exchange of radio messages.

These incidents recalled the 2013 fatal shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman by Filipino authorities in the same area. Philippine authorities filed homicide charges against eight of their coast guard men over the death of the 65-year-old Taiwanese fisherman in May 2013. A local court is hearing the case. The coast guard men said they opened fire after the fishing vessel tried to ram them, but Taiwan called the shooting “cold-blooded” murder and imposed economic sanctions on Manila.

Jose acknowledged a “huge overlapping” of the exclusive economic zones on the Philippines’ northern waters and waters off Taiwan’s southern end.

President Benigno Aquino’s office is reviewing the proposed fishing agreement and will decide within the year whether or not to sign it, Jose said.

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“With this agreement, we hope to talk about (sea incidents) in an easier manner,” he said.

The Philippines is constrained by the “one-China policy” in addressing sea incidents involving Taiwan. It can only tackle fisheries issues with its close neighbor.

“(We have a One-China policy)…that’s why we are limiting our discussions with Taiwan on the fisheries agreement without touching on maritime boundaries,” Jose said.

Under the government’s one-China policy, the Philippines handles its ties with Taiwan not through the Department of Foreign Affairs but through the Manila Economic and Cultural Office, which is under the Office of the President, with the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office as its counterpart.

The one-China policy means governments with diplomatic relations with the mainland China (People’s Republic of China) including the Philippines must break relations with Taiwan (Republic of China).

“With regard to the One-China policy, we can still sign agreements with Taiwan but not on a government-to-government basis.”–AFP and Niña P. Calleja

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TAGS: Diplomacy, Fisheries agreement, Philippines, Taiwan
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