China has confirmed that a Chinese trawler “bumped into” a Philippine fishing boat in the South China Sea but denied claims the incident was a “hit and run.”
China’s vast fishing fleet has been co-opted to serve Beijing’s military agenda and support its naval presence in the South China Sea, according to some analysts.
Philippine Supreme Court judge Antonio Carpio, a prominent critic of China, said the Chinese fishing fleet included vessels with reinforced steel hulls “purposely for ramming fishing vessels of other coastal states”.
“The Filipino people must send a strong signal to China that any new ‘grey zone’ offensive of ramming Filipino fishing vessels …will mean a break of diplomatic ties,” the judge said.
The Yuemaobinyu trawler left the scene near Reed Bank as the fishing boat sank left due to safety fears after being “suddenly besieged by seven or eight Filipino fishing boats”, said the Chinese embassy in Manila.
“The Chinese captain tried to rescue the Filipino fisherman but was afraid of being besieged by other Filipino fishing boats,” the embassy told the media.
It said the Chinese trawler “confirmed the fishermen from the Filipino boat were rescued”.
The 22 Filipino fishermen said they spent hours in the water before being rescued by a Vietnamese boat and brought back on a Philippine naval vessel.
Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros called for bilateral ties to be downgraded and said China’s comments had been “preposterous”, making no sense.
She accused President Rodrigo Duterte of being vocal on trivial matters but mute on Philippine sovereignty.
“Nothing is more reassuring to the public than to see and hear their own president, the supposed architect of the country’s foreign policy, telling them that he is on top of the situation,” the senator told the media.
In response, Duterte’s spokesman said the incident was “outrageous and barbaric”.
Pro-Beijing Duterte last month criticised China’s South China Sea expansionism.
“I love China… but it behoves upon us to ask, ‘Is it right for a country to claim the whole ocean?’” he asked.
There is mistrust of China among Duterte’s pro-US military, which fears China’s maritime militarisation and what it claims is its bullying denial of Philippine access to Manila’s offshore oil and gas reserves.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin said a diplomatic protest had been lodged with Beijing over the incident.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang dismissed the crash as “an ordinary maritime traffic accident”, saying Manila should not “politicise the incident without verification”.
Reed Bank is within the Philippine 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone but it is also claimed by Beijing.
China’s navy is eyeing Pacific expansion. Picture credit: Wikimedia