20130515 EDITORIAL: Cool heads needed in Manila row
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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 matter what.

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 office.

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 Beijing.

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.

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