TAIPEI, Taiwan – The shooting death of a Taiwanese fisherman by the Philippine coast guard has become the latest incident to roil tensions over territorial disputes in and around the South China Sea, with Taipei calling Friday for Manila to apologize for the shooting.
Taiwan said that the Philippine Coast Guard opened fire Thursday on a 65-year-old fisherman in waters claimed by both governments. The Philippines acknowledged the Taiwanese claim, but said its personnel were acting in self-defense.
Meanwhile China sought to make common cause with Taiwan against Manila, deploring the shooting in harsh rhetoric that threatened to spark another diplomatic tussle between Beijing and the Philippines, a key U.S. ally in one of Asia's most contentious areas.
Speaking to reporters in Taipei, Foreign Minister David Lin blamed the Philippine coast guard for opening fire on the fisherman's boat, the Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28, on Thursday, from a vessel belonging to the fisheries department of the Philippines Department of Agriculture in the Bashi Strait, about midway between southern Taiwan and the northern Philippines.
"We strongly condemn the fatal shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman by the Philippine fishery department," Lin said. "We urge the Philippine government to open a full investigation on this case and send their apology to Taiwan's government."
Even before Lin spoke, the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing had condemned the incident, a clear attempt to make common cause with Taiwan on a matter of nationalistic pride involving disputed maritime territory.
Spokeswoman Hua Chunying called it a "brutal act" and echoed Taiwan's demand that Manila investigate.
"We are expressing our deep grief on the death of the Taiwan compatriot and condolences to the victim's family," Hua said.
Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949 and Beijing continues to claim the democratic island as part of its territory. In recent months it has made repeated attempts to bring Taiwan onto its side in its maritime disputes with Japan and other countries in the region. Taiwan has so far resisted, reflecting its own claims of national sovereignty.
Underscoring China's interest in playing the incident up, government channel CCTV led its noontime news on Friday with an emotional report on the death of the Taiwanese fisherman, and the Communist Party-controlled Global Times newspaper called on the Chinese navy to increase its presence in the South China Sea, amid angry condemnations of the Philippines as a "savage" country.
Taiwan's freewheeling media also gave prominent attention to the incident, with newspapers reporting it in banner headlines and cable TV news stations giving it round the clock coverage.
In Manila, the Philippine coast guard acknowledged that its personnel had opened fire on the Taiwanese boat, but claimed they acted in self-defense.
"They were forced to fire the shots because the fishing vessel attempted to ram them," said coast guard chief Rear Admiral Rodolfo Isorena.
Isorena said an investigation into the incident was being launched.
Relations between the Philippines and China, already hampered by simmering tensions over the Spratly Islands, deteriorated sharply last year when Chinese maritime vessels took control of a disputed shoal in the South China Sea.
The Philippines has turned to its American ally to beef up its dilapidated military assets and train its forces, and angered Beijing by seeking U.N. arbitration on South China Sea disputes.
Associated Press writers Christopher Bodeen in Beijing and Hrvoje Hranjski in Manila, Philippines, contributed to this report.