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China, Taiwan protest fatal shooting of fisherman by Philippines

May 10, 2013|By Barbara Demick
  • The Liuqiu Fishermen's Assn. released this undated photograph said to show the Taiwanese boat in which a fisherman was shot and killed Thursday in disputed waters.
The Liuqiu Fishermen's Assn. released this undated photograph said… (Liuqiu Fishermen's Assn.…)

BEIJING --  Beijing and Taipei united in their condemnation of the Philippines on Friday for the shooting death of a Taiwanese fisherman in disputed waters.

The killing of Hung Shih-cheng, 65, injects a volatile new element in ongoing conflicts over the South China Sea, where fishermen and authorities from competing nations often play dangerous games of chicken at sea.

Philippine authorities admitted that one of their coast guard ships opened fire Thursday on the victim's Taiwanese vessel, but said they had done so to prevent their own boat from being rammed and only intended to disable the engine.

"The ramming of the boat into our vessel was certainly an aggressive act so the [coast guard] responded accordingly," said deputy presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte at a press conference on Friday.

However, another Philippine official, coast guard commander Rodolfo Diwata Isorena, said that 11 law-enforcement officers had been suspended from duty as a result of the shooting.

Taiwanese media reported that the boat was struck by 30 to 40 bullets.

The victim, whose boat was captained by his son, was operating 170 nautical miles south of Taiwan, an area that lies within overlapping 200-mile economic exclusion zones of the Philippines and Taiwan. 

Dozens of disputes have been ongoing in the South China Sea as various parties vie for valuable fishing and energy rights. China has laid claim to much of the sea and is challenging the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Indonesia. The Philippines has a complaint pending before a U.N. tribunal against China for blockading a popular fishing reef known as Scarborough Shoal, 130 miles off the coast of Luzon.

Beijing appeared eager to capitalize on what the Chinese foreign ministry called a “barbaric shooting.” Chinese state media on Friday devoted lengthy reports on the fisherman and his family.

"The Philippines is the most 'barbaric' country in the South China Sea,’’ editorialized the Communist Party-run Global Times on Friday. "If it is confirmed the Philippine navy is behind the shooting, the mainland should show its stance by intensifying navy activities in the disputed water between the mainland and Philippines."

Taiwan’s foreign minister, David Lin, also condemned the shooting, albeit with milder language. "We urge the Philippine government to open a full investigation of this case and send their apology to Taiwan’s government," he said.

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