Manila's ties with Beijing rocked again

MANILA • The Philippines has filed a diplomatic protest against China, after saying that the crew of a Chinese fishing boat sank a Filipino vessel carrying 22 fishermen in South China Sea, potentially inflaming a dispute calmed by warm ties between the nations' leaders.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin said on his personal Twitter account yesterday that he had "fired off a diplomatic protest" on Wednesday over the incident which, he said in another tweet, he would call a "hit and run".

Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had condemned the crew of the Chinese fishing vessel for abandoning the 22 distressed Filipinos on board the FB Gimber 1, who were later rescued by a Vietnamese fishing boat and a Philippine Navy ship.

Sunday's incident took place near Reed Bank, an area claimed by both Manila and Beijing where there is a pending oil exploration plan by Philippines company PXP Energy Corp.

In Beijing yesterday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said it was an "ordinary maritime accident". He warned against "irresponsibly politicising" the collision and said China is investigating.

President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman Salvador Panelo had earlier described the actions of China's fishing vessel as uncivilised, outrageous and barbaric in what could be the most serious flare-up between Manila and Beijing in three years. He urged China to investigate and punish the crew members.

"The captain and the crew of the Chinese vessel should not have left the injured party without any assistance. Such act of desertion is inhuman," Mr Panelo said in a statement, adding that the Chinese crew violated international protocols that require them to assist a vessel in distress.

 
 

Despite the tough talk from multiple officials, Mr Lorenzana appeared to soften his stance yesterday, saying the government had yet to determine if the vessel was indeed from China.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 14, 2019, with the headline 'Manila's ties with Beijing rocked again'. Print Edition | Subscribe