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PH raises ‘trust’ issues with China after it sank Vietnam ship in South China Sea

Sofia Tomacruz
The Philippines expresses solidarity with Vietnam, nearly a year after Vietnamese fishermen rescued Filipinos sunk and abandoned by a Chinese ship in Recto Bank

TENSION AT SEA. The China Coastguard Ship 4301 involved in the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat. Photo from Weibo

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Wednesday, April 8, expressed “deep concern” over the recent sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat by a Chinese vessel in the South China Sea. 

Saying such incidents undermine trust in the region, the Philippines recalled the same experience that it went through nearly a year ago, when a Chinese ship rammed a Filipino vessel and abandoned Filipino fishermen in Recto Bank (Reed bank) in June 2019.  The Filipino fishermen of fishing boat Gem-Ver were rescued by Vietnamese fishermen hours after their abandonment. 

“Our own similar experience revealed how much trust in a friendship is lost by it; and how much trust was created by Vietnam’s humanitarian act of directly saving the lives of our Filipino fishermen,” the DFA said in its statement.

“We have not stopped and will not stop thanking Vietnam. It is with that in mind that we issue this statement of solidarity,” it added. 

What happened? A Chinese ship supposedly hit and sunk a Vietnamese shipping boat before “capturing and detaining the crew” on a nearby island.

Beijing disputed Vietnam’s claim, saying the Vietnamese fishing boat “refused” to leave the area after being ordered by a Chinese Coast Guard ship and later, “suddenly turned sharply” and hit the Chinese ship.

The two countries clashed further as Vietnam rejected China’s claim and lodged a diplomatic protest against the country. 

“The Chinese vessel committed an act that violated Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Hoang Sa archipelago and threatened the lives and damaged the property and legitimate interests of Vietnamese fishermen,” Vietnam’s foreign ministry said, referring to the Paracel Islands. 

Like the Philippines, Vietnam claims part of the South China Sea where China asserts sweeping claims of ownership. The landmark 2016 Hague ruling that affirmed Manila’s sovereign rights invalidated Beijing’s 9-dash line that covers virtually the entire South China Sea. 

The Philippines said with the discussion on a Code of Conduct in the maritime area, it is “crucial that such incidents be avoided and that differences be addressed in a manner that enhances dialogue and mutual trust.”

Last year’s sinking of a Philippine fishing boat by a Chinese vessel in the West Philippine Sea was one of the biggest crises to hit the Duterte administration, which has downplayed a decades-long maritime dispute in exchange for loans and grants from Beijing. 

‘Building trust’: The DFA urged countries to instead cooperate with one another as the world faces a crisis brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. 

In calling for this, the DFA highlighted how Southeast Asian countries “stood by China” during the Special ASEAN-China Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on the Coronavirus Disease 2019 last February to help solve the global health crisis. 

“There is never a good time to indulge in provocations; they usually end in defeat of aggression or a devastating price of victory. But it is always a good time to rise in the defense and affirmation of our respective sovereignties and in the peace and stability of our region especially in a time of pandemic…. The creation of new facts in the water will never give rise to legal right anywhere or anytime,” the DFA said. 

It added, “COVID-19 is a very real threat that demands unity and mutual trust. In the face of it, neither fish nor fictional historical claims are worth the fuse that’s lit by such incidents.” – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.