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Taipei aims for marine patrol pact with Manila

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Taiwan is hoping to sign an agreement on marine patrol cooperation with the Philippines next month in the event of future fishing incidents in overlapping exclusive economic zones (EEZs), the foreign minister said yesterday.

Speaking to local media yesterday, Foreign Minister David Lin (林永樂) said Taipei and Manila have just concluded a round of unofficial fishery talks earlier this week.

During the meeting held on Monday in Manila, representatives of two countries reaffirmed some of the conclusions reached in two previous rounds of official meetings, which include the establishment a hotline to facilitate two-way communication should fishery disputes occur within overlapping EEZs in the South China Sea.

Both sides also agreed to disavow the use of force in patrols in the event of future fishing incidents, he noted.

A mechanism for the prompt release of detained fishing vessels and their crews following arrests have also been established, Lin added.

The abovementioned mechanisms and hotline have been implemented for some time as the Philippine side has informed its coast guard and related authorities of the latest measures, the minister noted.

But Taiwan hopes to sign an official agreement to put these already in-place agreements on paper before the upcoming fishing season begins in April to better protect Taiwanese fishermen's rights to operate in overlapping fishing grounds, Lin said.

The signing of the agreement will help prevent a recurrence of the shooting death of 65-year-old Taiwanese fisherman Hung Shih-cheng (洪石成) by Philippine Coast Guard personnel on May 9, 2013, he added.

Lin made the comments several days after the PhilippinesDepartment of Justice (DOJ) announced Tuesday its decision to file homicide charges against eight coastguardsmen over the shooting death of Hung.

The eight Philippine suspects charged with homicide are facing a maximum 21-year prison term under Philippine law.

The fatal shooting had sparked national rage in Taiwan, prompting the government to impose retaliatory measures against the Philippines.

In August 2013, the Philippines released the results of its National Bureau of Investigation's inquiry into the incident, which recommended homicide charges be brought against the eight men involved in the shooting.

Taiwan subsequently lifted its sanctions against the Philippines and issued a statement announcing that relations between the two countries have been normalized.

Commenting on the Hung's case, Lin yesterday said the incident is a tragedy but could also been seen as a turning point for Taipei and Manila in solving the long-standing problem on fishing incidents in overlapping waters.

Paving Way for Bilateral Fishery Agreement

Lin said he hopes that the two sides can sign a marine patrol cooperation agreement next month, paving way for the ultimate signing of a comprehensive bilateral fishery pact to designate areas in overlapping EEZs in the South China Sea where Taiwanese fishermen can operate freely without being harassed by Philippine authorities.

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