DFA expresses concern over sinking of Vietnamese fishing vessel in South China Sea

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 8) — The Department of Foreign Affairs expressed “deep concern” over reports that the Chinese Coast Guard rammed and sunk a Vietnamese fishing vessel last week in the South China Sea, warning that such incidents undermine relations between Southeast Asian nations and Beijing.

“Given the positive momentum on the discussions on a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, it is crucial that such incidents be avoided and that differences be addressed in a manner that enhances dialogue and mutual trust,” the department said in a statement Wednesday.

The DFA reiterated that provocations in the hotly-contested South China Sea should be avoided, urging “forbearance and good behavior” from all parties involved while standing by their individual claims of sovereignty, especially as the world faces the threat of COVID-19.

“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,” the DFA said.

The department also expressed solidarity with Vietnam, remembering that Vietnamese fishermen helped Filipino fishers who were on board F/B Gem-Ver which got involved in a similar incident last year.

Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that a Chinese Coast Guard vessel “rammed and sunk” a Vietnamese fishing boat carrying eight Vietnamese fishermen in the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea last week.

“The above-mentioned Chinese vessel’s act violates Vietnam's sovereignty over the Paracel Islands, causes property losses and endangers the lives, safety and legitimate interests of the Vietnamese fishermen,” Vietnam's foreign ministry said.

It added that China’s alleged actions also run counter to agreements reached by Hanoi and Beijing’s leaders and the proposed Code of Conduct that would govern all interested parties in the South China Sea dispute.

Vietnam said it has lodged a diplomatic protest with China’s embassy in Hanoi, “requesting the Chinese side to investigate the incident, strictly discipline the officers aboard the Chinese vessel aforementioned, prevent the recurrence of similar actions, and make adequate compensation for the losses of the Vietnamese fishermen.”

The US State Department also condemned the incident, calling it the “latest in a long string of … actions to assert unlawful maritime claims and disadvantage its Southeast Asian neighbors in the South China Sea.”

“We call on [China] to remain focused on supporting international efforts to combat the global pandemic, and to stop exploiting the distraction or vulnerability of other states to expand its unlawful claims in the South China Sea,” the US State Department said.

In its defense, China’s coast guard said the Vietnamese fishing vessel was the one that rammed it, causing it to sink.

Several countries, including the Philippines have overlapping claims over features in the South China Sea. The Paracel Islands, for one, are both claimed by Vietnam and China.

An international tribunal based in The Hague and backed by the Permanent Court of Arbitration has struck down China’s sweeping nine-dash line claim over virtually the entire South China Sea, but Beijing still refuses to acknowledge the 2016 ruling.

CNN Philippines’ Tristan Nodalo contributed to this report.