Taiwan denies 'bullying' Philippines in standoff at sea

Taipei, June 4 (CNA) Taiwan's Coast Guard did not "bully" Philippine Coast Guard personnel in a recent standoff that occurred in the two countries' overlapping economic waters, Taiwan's representative office in the Philippines said Thursday. In a statement, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in the Philippines said that the standoff last week occurred 21.6 nautical miles off the Philippines' Batanes Islands, not within the Philippines' 12-nautical mile territorial sea. It said that the apprehending of a Taiwanese fishing boat by the Philippine coast guards in a contiguous zone -- an area contiguous to its territorial sea -- was not in line with international law. Taiwan's Coast Guard is entitled to protect Taiwanese fishing boats in the country's exclusive economic zone, it added. The standoff occurred in waters northeast of the Batanes Islands, northern Philippines, when the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) apprehended the Taiwanese fishing vessel, the "Ming Jin Cai No. 6," on May 25. The PCG was towing the fishing boat when a Taiwanese Coast Guard cutter appeared, blocked the Philippine patrol vessel and demanded the release of the fishing boat. After four hours of negotiation, the Taiwanese fishing boat was released. The 500-ton Taiwan Coast Guard cutter was bigger than the 115-ton Philippine patrol boat, leading to allegations among some Philippine people that Philippine coast guards were bullied by their Taiwanese counterparts in the standoff. Denying such accusations, the office stressed that law enforcement officers from both sides maintained a professional attitude toward each other. The Taiwanese coast guards did not threaten to open fire, it said. Instead, the release of the Taiwanese fishing boat came as a result of bilateral negotiations, it said. Meanwhile, the office called on the Philippines to sign a bilateral agreement with Taiwan soon, which covers law enforcement cooperation in the two countries' overlapping economic waters. In the wake of the standoff, the Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs also issued a statement Wednesday, calling for an early conclusion of the agreement that would formalize measures to resolve fishing disputes to prevent the occurrence of similar incidents. Officials from the two neighbors have agreed on the text of the agreement. It is pending the authorization of Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III, before the Philippines and Taiwan can move to sign the pact. The agreement covers a consensus reached by the two countries, including no use of force or violence when patrolling fishing grounds, the establishment of a mechanism to inform each other in the event of fishery incidents, and the release of detained fishermen and boats as soon as possible. Taiwan and the Philippines have been negotiating the pact since late 2013, one of a series of steps taken to improve relations after Philippine Coast Guard officers opened fire on a Taiwanese fishing boat May 9, 2013 in waters where the two countries' exclusive economic zones overlap, killing a Taiwanese fisherman. (By Emerson Lim and Elaine Hou)