By Roy Mabasa
The Philippine government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), on Wednesday, April 8, expressed its deep concern over the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat last April 3. It was allegedly hit by a Chinese coast guard vessel near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.
In what it called a “statement of solidarity” with Vietnam, the DFA noted that such incidents “undermine the potential of a genuinely deep and trusting regional relationship between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China.”
Citing the positive development on the discussion of the Code of Conduct (COC) in South China Sea between ASEAN member states and Beijing, the DFA said, “it is crucial that such incidents be avoided and that differences be addressed in a manner that enhances dialogue and mutual trust.”
“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. We have not stopped and will not stop thanking Vietnam. It is with that in mind that we issue this statement of solidarity,” the Philippines said in an expression of support to Vietnam.
Furthermore, the DFA stressed the importance of strong regional relations in the light of the current global crisis brought by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic that started in Wuhan City, China.
“The continued strengthening of regional relations is especially critical in light of the ASEAN-China joint commitment to collectively tackle the ongoing crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, as declared in the Statement of the Special ASEAN-China Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), issued on 20 February 2020,” it said.
Authorities in Vietnam earlier reported that, on April 3, 2020, a Vietnamese fishing boat with eight fishermen onboard, while doing a regular fishing activity, was “hindered, rammed and sunk” by a Chinese coast guard vessel in the waters of the Paracel Islands (Hôang Sa in Vietnamese) in the volatile South China Sea.
On the same day, the Vietnamese government lodged a diplomatic protest against Beijing asking the Chinese side to investigate and discipline the officers aboard the Chinese coast guard vessel. Vietnam confirmed that the eight fishermen have safely returned to Vietnam after the April 3 incident.
Last Tuesday, April 7, the United States scored China for its “long string of actions to assert unlawful maritime claims” amidst the outbreak of the global pandemic.
“We are seriously concerned by reports of the PRC’s (People’s Republic of China) sinking of a Vietnamese fishing vessel in the vicinity of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea,” the US State Department said in a statement.