EDITORIAL: Cool heads
needed in Manila row
A small group of city councilors from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP),
accompanied by DPP Legislator Pasuya Yao (姚文智), formed a half circle on Monday
morning as they burned reproductions of the Philippine flag and images of
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III outside the Manila Economic and Cultural
Office (MECO) in Taipei.
Yao and the participants at the small protest were expressing the outrage many
Taiwanese feel at the Philippine Coast Guard’s killing of a Taiwanese fisherman
on Thursday. They were joined by dozens of members of the 908 Taiwan Republic
Alliance, a pro-independence group, who, along with DPP city councilors, lobbed
green flippers at the office.
Their anger at the use of indiscriminate force against an unarmed fishing vessel
— regardless of whether it indeed crossed into the Philippines’ exclusive
economic zone, as Manila claims — was entirely justified, as were their calls on
President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration to ensure that the matter is
resolved in a just and timely manner.
Since the killing of 65-year-old Hung Shih-cheng (洪石成) onboard the ill-fated
Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28, the DPP has been relentless in its criticism of the Ma
administration, accusing it of being “slow” and “soft” in its response, and of
lacking resolve. It has also called for a more muscular role for the military
than what the government has been willing to consider.
One 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, no
It is true that the DPP has not been alone in doing this. Several legislators
from Ma’s Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) have sounded like warmongers in the
past few days, and other members were present at a protest on Monday during
which eggs were lobbed at the building that houses the Philippine representative
However, all things considered, the Ma administration has handled the crisis
rather well and has managed to strike a balance between several related issues:
It has been firm with Manila; it has issued an ultimatum that will expire just
as this paper goes to print; it communicated with the US; it involved the navy
and reinforced the coast guard; and it warded off attempts at meddling by
In a show of both compassion and skillful diplomacy, it even promised to help
the family of a Philippine worker seek compensation on Monday after he was
killed in a car accident while being driven to Taiwan Taoyuan International
Airport, from where he was to be deported for overstaying his visa.
What more would the DPP have the Ma administration do? By going beyond what it
has done to date, Taipei would unduly risk escalating tensions with a neighbor
and a major source of manpower. Whatever short-term gains might be scored
against Ma and the KMT by accusing him of being “soft” on an “arrogant, rude and
unreasonable country” — DPP Legislator Chiu Yi-ying’s (邱議瑩) words — are not
worth the long-term damage that would be caused to bilateral ties should the
situation deteriorate as a result of a more hardline policy in Taipei.
And whatever policy alternatives the DPP might have come up with had it been
forced to deal with a similar issue, desecrating another country’s flag during a
protest is conduct most unbecoming.
It is a display of nationalism that has no place in a peace-loving country like
Taiwan. Members of the DPP should know better than anyone else that such
reckless acts are exactly the type of comportment they often deplore among
Chinese nationalists across the Taiwan Strait, who have turned such barbarism
into a national sport.
Taiwanese have been overwhelmingly even-handed in their response to the
incident. The DPP wins nothing by acting like a bully. Cool heads must prevail,
at every level.