Beijing—China confirmed Saturday a Chinese vessel hit a Philippine fishing boat in a collision
which has increased tensions in the disputed South China Sea but denied claims it was a “hit and run.”
The Chinese trawler sailed away after the incident Sunday near Reed Bank that sank the fishing boat, sparking outrage from Philippine authorities and media.
But the Chinese Embassy in Manila, in a statement, maintained the captain of the Chinese vessel even attempted to rescue the Filipino fishermen following the incident.
According to them, China’s preliminary investigation showed that Yuemaobinyu 42212, a Guandong-based fishing boat “engaged in a light purse seine operation” when it was “suddenly besieged by 7 or 8 Filipino fishing boats” at the vicinity of the Reed Bank.
“During the evacuation, 42212 failed to shun a Filipino fishing boat, and its steel cable on the lighting grid of larboard bumped into the Filipino pilothouse. The Filipino fishing boat tilted and its stern foundered,” the Chinese Embassy narrated.
“The Chinese captain tried to rescue the Filipino fishermen, but was afraid of being besieged by other Filipino fishing boats,” it added.
The Chinese Embassy also said the 42212 vessel “sailed away from the scene” when they found out that the Filipino fishermen were rescued on board by other Filipino fishing boats.
“The above [explanation] shows that there is no such thing as ‘hit-and-run’,” it stressed.
Days after the Department of National Defense denounced the incident, the Philippine government wasted no time to file a diplomatic protest and blast the Chinese fishermen for “it’s (sic) act of desertion,” which was both “inhuman and barbaric.”
Even as the said incident ignited fresh diplomatic tensions between the two claimant countries of the resource-filled waterways, Beijing still puts its friendship with Manila at “great importance.”
“The Chinese side attaches great importance to China-Philippines friendship and safety of life at sea, and will continue to properly handle this issue with the Philippines in a serious and responsible manner,” the Chinese Embassy said.
“The two sides are maintaining close communication through diplomatic channels,” it added.
In related developments:
• Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said Saturday, for the freedom of navigation to mean anything in the South China Sea, the United States must also use its power to uphold the sovereign rights of states surrounding the strategic waters.
READ: Boat ramming: PH outraged
“Freedom of navigation in the South China Sea by itself is merely the freedom to walk in a zoo past cages of animals. Freedom of navigation to mean anything includes willingness to use US power to uphold the sovereign rights of the littoral states of Southeast Asia or it is nothing,” Locsin said, reacting to a statement from the US Embassy in Manila.
On Friday, the US issued a comment on the collision near Reed Bank in the West Philippine Sea involving Chinese and Filipino boats.
• The Filipino fishing vessel F/B Gem-Ver I which figured in a collision—rammed by a Chinese vessel off the Reed Bank or Recto Bank on June 9 is the phrase used by Filipino fishermen—dropped anchor in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro on Saturday.
It arrived at 4 a.m. with its stern or back part destroyed, according to a report by Marisol Abdurahman on Balitanghali Weekend, aired and heard nationwide.
Boy Gordiones, the boat’s machinist, said the almost four days of pulling the Filipino vessel became a struggle as he had to continuously draw off water to prevent it from sinking.
Gordiones, like his colleagues, claimed the ramming was intentional on the part of the Chinese vessel. The Filipino fishermen added they feared for their lives when the incident happened.
Some of his fellow fishermen, fortunately, paddled through the waters to approach a Vietnamese fishing vessel and seek for assistance.
While President Rodrigo Duterte has largely set aside the once tense stand-off with China over the resource-rich waterway, many in the Philippines bristle at Beijing’s actions in the sea.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila said the crew of trawler Yuemaobinyu 42212 “bumped into” the Philippine boat and then left due to safety fears.
“The Chinese captain tried to rescue the Filipino fishermen, but was afraid of being besieged by other Filipino fishing boats,” the statement said.
It went on to say the incident was not a “hit-and-run,” case, as some Philippine authorities had claimed because the trawler “confirmed the fishermen from the Filipino boat were rescued.”
However, the 22 fishermen told a very different story, saying they had spent hours in the water awaiting help.
They were eventually picked up by a nearby Vietnamese boat and brought home Friday aboard a Philippine navy vessel.
The Philippine coast guard has started an investigation of the incident which Duterte’s spokesman branded as “outrageous and barbaric”.
Opposition lawmaker Francis Pangilinan branded China’s version of events “as fake as its territorial claims,” and called for Philippine leaders to stand up to Beijing.
“Now is the time to show real grit and toughness,” Pangilinan said. “There is never a time to be meek and submissive before a foreign power that endangers our own people.”
Duterte has yet to make any public comment but he recently criticized China’s assertive stance over the sea.
“I love China... but it behooves upon us to ask, ‘Is it right for a country to claim the whole ocean?’” he said in a speech last month.
Locsin said this week he had lodged a diplomatic protest with China over the sinking.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang on Thursday called the incident “an ordinary maritime traffic accident.”
Geng said it was irresponsible for the Philippines to “politicize the incident without verification”.
Competing claims over the South China Sea are a point of regional contention because trillions of dollars of goods pass through it, and rich petroleum reserves are thought to sit deep beneath its waters.
Reed Bank, an area claimed by Manila and Beijing, is within the Philippines’ 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone and far from China’s nearest major landmass.
Manila won a key 2016 ruling against China’s claims in the waterway, but Duterte opted to set it aside in exchange for Chinese investments.
Opposition politicians, as well as segments of the public and media, charge that Duterte has bartered away Philippine sovereignty with little to show in return.
Meanwhile, the United States reiterated Washington’s “clear” position on the South China Sea.
“We saw news reports of the collision at sea. We are thankful none of the Filipino fishermen lost their lives and glad that Vietnamese fishermen rescued them from the open sea,” it said.
“Our position on the South China Sea is clear: We support lawful uses of the sea, respect for international law, unimpeded lawful commerce, and peace and stability. We urge all parties to refrain from using coercion and intimidation to assert their territorial and maritime claims,” it added.
Although Locsin acknowledged that the statement was meant to fence-sit, he recalled that “the last time the US opened its mouth, it told the Philippines and China to stand down in Scarborough and withdraw.”
“We did. China stayed. The US was silent. Silence gives consent. We lost. Under (President Donald) Trump this is supposed to change. (Former President Barack) Obama’s craven diplomats must be purged from State,” he said.
China, the Philippines, and several littoral states have overlapping claims in the vast South China Sea, believed to have deposits of oil and natural gases.
In a statement issued Saturday night, former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said: “I have read with great interest the Chinese statement which was put up, then taken down. Firstly, China should not have been fishing in our EEZ. The rights to fish there are exclusively ours.
“Secondly, the Chinese captain stated that his boat at approximately midnight was conducting fishing operations when it was besieged by about 8 Filipino fishing boats. In pulling out of the area, the collision occurred.
“The captain decided not to rescue our 22 fishermen as he was himself fearful of being besieged by our other fishing boats. Subsequently, our fishermen were rescued by a Vietnamese boat. We have information that in fact, the collision took place around midnight.
“We also have 100 percent reliable information that the Vietnamese rescue took place in the early morning, about 4 hours later. Our fishermen would sadly have been left in the water for too many hours.
“If we had our other fishing boats in the area as declared by the Chinese captain, why did our poor fishermen have to wait hours to be rescued by our Vietnamese friends? This debunks the first explanation of China. A second explanation could only make things even worse.” With AFP and PNA