Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful typhoons ever, devastated the central regions of the Philippines during the second week of November. According to the local government, 4,000 people were killed and 1,179 people are missing, and a half million are homeless and that number is still climbing. While much international disaster relief has been delivered to local communities, it is surprising to see that the Taiwanese government participated in the relief action since just six months ago, it almost went to war with the Philippines.
▲ The Filipino Refugees. Provided by i.huffpost.com
Taiwan and Philippine are in many ways similar to each other; geographically they are only 300km apart, and economically their fishing industries are an important source of income for both. Because of these two similarities, there is a long list of disputes between the two governments over fishing rights. The most recent, and probably the one that gained most attention, happened in May. The Taiwanese fishing boat Guang Da Xing No. 28 was shot 50 times by a patrol boat of the Philippines Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) with two machine guns on Taiwanese waters. The father of the captain, Hong Shi Cheng, was killed in the shooting.
▲ The Prosecutor in Charge of the Incident (Left and Middle) and the Ministry of Justice
This is not the first time a fisherman has been killed in such a dispute. There were cases in 2004 and 2006 in which Taiwanese fishermen were killed by Filipino government ships. Whereas those two cases were glossed over by the Taiwanese government, this time the government took a powerful stance regarding the matter. The reason for this change of attitude was that the current Taiwanese president Ma Ying Jeou is suffering from low popularity because of the unsatisfactory performance of the local economy.
In May 11, one week after the incident, President Ma announced four formal requests to the Filipino government – to formally apologize in the name of the Filipino government, to investigate and punish the person responsible, to compensate the losses, and to formally negotiate the matter. The Filipino government, however, did not fully satisfy these requests, such as only apologizing only in the name of the citizens, while the ship and the staff on board belonged to and worked for the government. As a result, on May 15, the Taiwanese government announced 11 specific economic sanctions against the Philippines, including an unconditional limitation on Filipinos' application for work visas in Taiwan.
Taiwanese public reaction was overwhelming. The local media were reporting the incident for almost 24 hours a day during the month after the incident, and Filipino workers in Taiwan were physically assaulted. At the same time, it was reported by the Taiwanese media that its Filipino counterparts did not deliver the truth about the incident; they told their audiences that Guang Da Xing first attacked the Filipino boat and that only warning shots were made against the Taiwanese ship, even though 50 shots seem like more than a warning. The Taiwanese citizens were now even more infuriated by, and their government protested to the international media with an equally furious tone. “The word ‘unintentional’ in the Filipino government’s statement is unacceptable,” said Lin Yong Le, the Taiwanese secretary of foreign affairs.
▲ The guns that are suspected to have attacked the Guang Da Xing ship.
On November 14, the Filipino government made an announcement stating its gratitude to the Taiwanese government for the disaster relief it had provided. According to the statement, the Taiwanese government sent 200,000 dollars and several C-130 cargo planes to airlift relief resources. In the statement, the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) said it offered its "sincerest thanks on behalf of the Filipino people and our government." The biggest reason for the shift in the Taiwanese government's attitude was that the Filipino. government had officially apologized, promised to compensate the economic losses of the Hong family and to punish the criminals.
Even though the Philippines had apologized and promised compensation, it is still shocking to some that Taiwan sent its military planes to Filipino territory. One reason for such surprise is that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has an unresolved territorial dispute with the Philippines, while the Taiwanese government tries to keep its relationship with the PRC as peaceful as possible. Therefore, it could be viewed as politically dangerous to send military planes to the Philippines since that might indicate that those two countries were undertaking joint military operations.
“Taiwan has a different view of the typhoon disaster,” said Professor Ji Eun Ju (Peace and Democracy Institute), “since Taiwan itself has a long history of fighting typhoons every year.” Indeed, annually about three to four typhoons strike Taiwan on average, mainly due to its geographical location. Thus, the Taiwanese government and charity organizations feel sympathy and a responsibility to donate their resources to those in need since they have in the past received international support in dealing with natural disasters.
Yi De Bao Yuan is the Romanization of the Chinese for return good for evil, and the direction of the Taiwanese government’s diplomatic strategy towards the Philippines. While some may say the Taiwanese government would have been justified in implementing harsh set of policies against the Philippines, they did not. Rather, after the Filipino government apologized and took responsibility for the fishing boat incident, the Taiwanese government withdrew the 11 economic sanctions it had instituted against the Philippines which had caused an 11 billion Taiwanese dollar, about 350 billion Korean won, economic loss to the Philippines. Taiwan's actions have won the applause of the international community - On June 3, 2013, a report titled “Taiwan burnished regional credentials with measured response to Filipino aggression” that appeared in the Euronews stated that, despite public anger, the ROC government was “determined to pursue justice, rather than vengeance.”