MANILA -- The Philippine government has expressed its "deep concern" over the recent sinking of a Vietnamese fishing vessel in the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.
"The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) expresses deep concern over the reported sinking on 03 April 2020 of a Vietnamese fishing vessel in the South China Sea. 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 agency said in a statement.
The Vietnam Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) earlier confirmed that Vietnamese fishing boat No. QNg 90617 TS "was hindered, rammed and sunk by a Chinese Coastguard vessel" while carrying out normal fishing activities in the waters of Paracel Islands.
Relating to the June 2019 Reed Bank incident where 22 distressed Filipinos were rescued by a Vietnamese boat, the DFA underscored that Manila "have not stopped and will not stop" being grateful, hence the statement of solidarity.
"The DFA values the maintenance of peace and stability in the South China Sea and notes that such incidents undermine the potential of a genuinely deep and trusting regional relationship between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China," the DFA said.
Vietnam has filed a diplomatic protest with a representative of the Chinese Embassy in Ha Noi requesting Beijing to investigate the vessel's sinking.
Eight fishermen were on board the boat when the incident happened. All the passengers "have safely returned," Vietnam MOFA spokesperson Le Thi Thu Hang said citing relevant Vietnamese agencies.
Citing the positive momentum on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) negotiations, Manila said it is "crucial" that such incidents be avoided and that "differences be addressed in a manner that enhances dialogue and mutual trust."
While it acknowledged the need to defend respective sovereignties and regional peace especially amid the global coronavirus pandemic, the DFA underscored "there is never a good time to indulge in provocations."
In addition, it said the creation of "new facts in the water" will never give rise to legal right anywhere or anytime.
"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," it said.
The South China Sea where Paracel Islands and Spratlys are located is contested by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, China, and Taiwan. In 2017, China and the ASEAN agreed to start negotiations on the COC.
Both China and ASEAN, on the other hand, were urged to continue strengthening regional relations to fight the pandemic as pledged during the Special ASEAN-China Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on Covid-19 last February.
"ASEAN stood by China in that meeting witnessed by all the world. ASEAN’s support proved well merited as we had no doubt it would when China extended extensive assistance to countries like the Philippines and as far afield as Italy to combat Covid-19. We remain deeply appreciative. In our small way we had helped when the crisis in Wuhan was at its worst," the DFA said.
"The Covid-19 crisis is a crisis like no other in the past; not just in its potential calamitous scale, but in the hope to contain and stop it by unstinting cooperation and fullest trust between all countries, on the realization that if any of us fails the rest will follow; and if any of us succeeds that success must be extended to the rest of the world. Or again all of us will ultimately fail and suffer the consequences. Its solution is still distant and must extend to everyone or no one," it added. (PNA)