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Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Philippines recklessness killing Chinese Taiwan fishermen

The killing of 65-year old Taiwanese fisherman Hung Shih-cheng is not the first incident involving Philippine Coast Guard shooting at Taiwanese fishermen. In 2006, another fishing boat was attacked, which led to the death of 67-year-old captain Chen An-lao. 

The Philippines initially denied the shooting, then admitted its coast guard did fire at the fishing boat. Recently, it agreed to make an apology.

Abigail Valte, spokeswoman for the presidential office of the Philippines declared that "The Taiwanese fishing boat attempted to ram our coast guard ship. It was without a doubt a provocative action."

Armand Balilo, Philippine coast guard spokesman detailed the story on the same day. According to the Manila Times, Balilo emphasized the incident happened in Philippine waters. He said the coast guard quickly left the area after they saw a third vessel, "a big white ship," besides the two Taiwan fishing boats they tried to approach, and felt threatened.

The actions of the Philippine coast guard narrated by both spokespersons could be interpreted from two perspectives.

For one thing, although the Philippines claimed the incident took place in Philippine waters, the Philippines doesn't have competent jurisdiction over the region, otherwise, the coast guard would not have been allowed to beat a hasty retreat.

It also shows that the Philippine authorities are very supportive of stirring disputes in disputed regions.

The Philippine government argued that the boat was attacked in waters where claims of rights of two sides overlap. In a region with controversial rights issues, each could come up with reasonable queries for the other.

The rights of Taipei and Manila in the disputed regions are undifferentiated. In past years Taiwan authorities didn't take enough action over the Philippines seizing and even killing Taiwanese fishermen, but that doesn't mean the Philippines can violate the international laws.

According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), coastal countries have the right of hot pursuit in their territorial waters. It grants coastal states the right to pursue and arrest ships escaping to international waters.

According to the Article 111 of the UNCLOS, "the hot pursuit of a foreign ship may be undertaken when the competent authorities of the coastal state have good reason to believe that the ship has violated the laws and regulations of that state. Such pursuit must be commenced when the foreign ship or one of its boats is within the internal waters, the archipelagic waters, the territorial sea or the contiguous zone of the pursuing state, and may only be continued outside the territorial sea or the contiguous zone if the pursuit has not been interrupted."

As a nod to the territorial principle, "the right of hot pursuit ceases as soon as the ship pursued enters the territorial sea of its own state or of a third state."

Hot pursuit is the most powerful right that international law grants to coastal countries over illegal operations of foreign ships in their waters.

However, the recent incident took place at 20 degrees north latitude and 123 degrees east longitude. It's not in the territorial waters of the Philippines, but in the overlapping region of exclusive economic zones.

The Philippines are not qualified to exert the right of hot pursuit in the region.

Even it could, the hot pursuit right is not applied to attacks by heavy weapons like the machine gun used in the latest case.

When international laws and principles that we think can protect us are violated yet again, we need to calm down and think carefully about how to deal with the other side.

By Ju Hailong
The author is a senior research fellow of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies at Jinan University based in Guangzhou.

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