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Taiwan’s Ma Seeks to Restore Relations With Philippines Soon

Taiwan’s president Ma Ying-jeou indicated a thawing in a dispute with the Philippines over the shooting death of a Taiwanese fisherman in May, saying he hoped warmer ties would resume quickly.

“We are eager to restore relations as soon as possible, because, prior to this event, relations were quite friendly,” Ma said in an interview with Bloomberg News in Taipei yesterday.

Taiwan in May held military exercises off its southern coast to protest the killing of the fisherman by the crew of a Philippine coast guard vessel in disputed waters.

The shooting and the disagreement over its circumstances have soured ties. Ma recalled his representative from the Philippines and froze the hiring of workers from the Southeast Asian country on May 15, rejecting Philippine President Benigno Aquino’s apology over the fisherman’s death. Taiwanese employers haven’t renewed contracts for about 10,000 Filipinos, the Manila Economic and Cultural Office said July 9.

Taipei and Manila had carried out parallel and cooperative investigations into the incident, Ma said, with Taiwan’s report completed more than a month ago.

“We are now looking for a response from the Philippines so that both sides can release their investigation results, which will move us even closer,” Ma said. “We hope the process will not be a long one.”

Four Demands

Aquino is reviewing a report prepared by the National Bureau of Investigation, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said last month. Taiwan hasn’t decided when it will release its report, Deputy Justice Minister Chen Ming-tang said today.

“It’s in Ma’s best interest to bring this to a close so Taiwan can pursue fishery talks with the Philippines,” Song Yann-huei, a research fellow at Taipei-based Academia Sinica, said by phone today. “They would like to resolve this so they can move on to issues requiring more imminent attention.”

The investigation was one of four demands made by Ma’s administration after the May 9 confrontation. Others included a formal apology, compensation and punishment of the perpetrators. Ma said the Philippines is negotiating with the victim’s family. “We hope for agreement to be reached there quickly,” he said.

Taiwan and the Philippines last month agreed on a mechanism for law-enforcement operations at sea, including no use of force, mutual notification of any arrests and the release of detained fishermen and boats. The two sides are discussing plans for a second meeting, Anna Kao, a spokeswoman at Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said by phone today.

Taiwan’s goal is to sign an agreement with the Philippines similar to the accord it reached with Japan on April 10, which gives fishermen access to Japanese-administered waters near islands also claimed by China, Ma said.

“Neither side changed its stance on sovereignty, but rather agreed to set the issue aside,” he said.

Taiwan, China, and Japan all claim sovereignty over islands in the East China Sea known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese.

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