TAIPEI, Taiwan — The Philippine president 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.
In a subsequent statement late Wednesday, Taiwan's premier called the apology "a positive move," but said a series of sanctions imposed by Taipei on Manila to protest the action would remain in effect. Premier Jiang Yi-huah said 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.
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.
In Washington, the State Department said it was concerned by the increase in tensions "between two neighboring democracies and close partners of the United States." It welcomed the Philippine pledge to investigate the shooting and cooperate with Taiwanese investigators, and urged both parties to avoid further escalation in tensions.
"We want them to work through their differences on this issue as expeditiously as they can," spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters.
The apology from President Benigno Aquino III came less than a day after Taiwan rejected an expression of regret by the Philippine envoy to the island. 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," Lacierda said in a statement.
Hung is the 65-year-old fisherman killed May 9 when Philippine coast guard personnel opened fire on his fishing vessel in the Bashi Strait, between the northern Philippines and southern Taiwan.
The Philippines has said its coast guard personnel were acting in self-defense because the Taiwanese fishing vessel was about to ram a Philippine ship carrying coast guard personnel.
Speaking after the Philippines' announcement, Taiwanese Premier Jiang said "the Philippines has shown a lack of sincerity in resolving this matter."
"Taiwan will continue to exert pressure on the Philippines," he said. "We will not allow any country to endanger our people's safety or harm our national sovereignty."
Earlier, Jiang had said Taiwan was displeased with a previous apology delivered by the Philippine representative office in Taipei, saying its phrasing reflected a desire by the Philippine 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 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.
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 Thursday's 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."