A representative from the Chinese government has downplayed the news of a Chinese vessel allegedly hitting a Philippine fishing boat in the disputed West Philippine Sea and leaving 22 Filipino crew members to fend for themselves in the water.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang yesterday called the incident “an ordinary maritime traffic accident” and said that China was still investigating the issue, AFP reported.
He agreed that those involved should be condemned if reports are true but he also said it was irresponsible for the Philippine government to “politicize the incident without verification.”
Reports about the collision first came out on Wednesday as the Philippines celebrated its 121st Independence Day.
According to a statement from Department of National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, a Chinese vessel struck the Philippine fishing boat F/B Gimver 1, which was anchored near the Recto Bank (aka Reed Bank) in Palawan on Sunday.
The Philippine boat sank and the Chinese ship allegedly left 22 Filipino fishermen treading water. They were later rescued by crew members of a Vietnamese vessel.
Like China and the Philippines, Vietnam also has claims over parts of the West Philippine Sea.
Various Philippine government officials have condemned the Chinese crew members for their alleged inaction. Lorenzana called for diplomatic action and described the behavior as “cowardly.”
The Duterte administration, which has been criticized for not upholding the 2016 arbitral tribunal decision that ruled in favor of the Philippines’ claims over the West Philippine Sea, called it “inhuman” and “barbaric” through a statement from presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. also said yesterday that he has filed a diplomatic protest regarding the issue.
In a statement yesterday, the military’s Western Command said that initial reports described the collision as accidental but Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Western Command Spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Penetrante has said that it probably was not.
“According to our report, it’s far from accidental because if it were accidental, the SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) should be they should stop, right? And then they should rescue, rescue our fishermen. But when they hit the F/B Gimver 1, they just kept on going, they did not stop,” Penetrante told Rappler in English and Filipino.
The Western Command’s statement from yesterday also said that they will conduct an inquiry to find out how exactly the collision happened. According to AFP, neither Beijing nor Manila have officially confirmed that the boat involved in the hit-and-run incident was Chinese-registered.
About 200 Chinese vessels have been found near the West Philippine Sea since the beginning of the year. Beijing has staked “indisputable sovereignty” over it and has built artificial islands with military facilities and airstrips.
With reporting from AFP.
This article, China downplays PH fishing boat incident, criticizes PH for politicizing ‘without verification’, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia's leading alternative media company. Want more Coconuts? Sign up for our newsletters!