TAIPEI, Taiwan – The Philippine president on Wednesday apologized to Taiwan for the fatal shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman by Philippine coast guard personnel, after Taiwan rejected an earlier Philippine apology and started retaliating diplomatically.
Last week's shooting in waters both sides claim has focused renewed attention on territorial disputes involving multiple nations — including China — in and around the South China Sea, which have turned the area into one of the region's most tense.
The apology from President Benigno Aquino III came less than a day after Taiwan rejected an expression of regret by the Philippines envoy to the island over the incident. Taiwan announced it was instituting a hiring freeze on Philippine workers, recalling its envoy to Manila and discouraging travel to the Southeast Asian nation.
Hours later, Philippine presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Aquino was sending his personal representative to Taipei with an apology letter.
The representative "will convey his and the Filipino people's deep regret and apology to the family of Mr. Hung Shi-chen as well as to the people of Taiwan over the unfortunate and unintended loss of life."
Hung is the 65-year-old fisherman killed last Thursday after Philippines coast guard personnel opened fire on his fishing vessel in the Bashi Strait, between the northern Philippines and southern Taiwan.
The Philippines acknowledged that its coast guard personnel were responsible, but said they were acting in self-defense because the Taiwanese fishing vessel was about the ram a Philippine ship carrying coast guard personnel.
There was no immediate response from to Taiwan to the new apology.
Earlier, Premier Jiang Yi-huah said Taiwan was displeased with an apology delivered by the Philippine representative office in Taipei, saying its phrasing reflected a desire by the Philippines government to distance itself from the affair.
Jiang also professed unhappiness with the source of compensation money the family of the fisherman will receive — the Filipino people rather than the Philippines government itself.
"The shooting was conducted by one of its civil servants, and its government could not evade the responsibility," Jiang said, adding that Taiwan wants to be informed about whether the guilty party or parties will be charged, jailed or dismissed.
Jiang also confirmed that a previously scheduled military exercise involving the coast guard, the navy and the air force will go ahead Thursday in the Bashi Strait, in the general area where the Taiwanese fishing vessel was fired on.
Late Wednesday, the defense ministry said a Taiwanese F-16 crashed into the sea off the western coast of Taiwan, adding that the pilot was rescued. Taiwanese media reports said the aircraft was flying south to join the military exercise.
China has tried to make common cause with Taiwan on the fisherman's death, part of its efforts to emphasize its claims of sovereignty over the island of 23 million people. Taiwan has so far resisted those attempts. The two split amid civil war in 1949.
On Wednesday the spokesman for the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council in Beijing repeated the mainland's condemnation of the Philippines' handling of the incident.
"It is the shared responsibility of both the mainland and Taiwan to safeguard the interests of compatriots across the strait," said Yang Yi. "We have urged Philippines to investigate the incident, punish the murderer and give a satisfactory explanation to the victims."