Sun, Jun 16, 2019 - Page 1 News List

Beijing confirms boat collision in the South China Sea, denies ‘hit-and-run’

AFP, MANILA

Fishermen on Friday arrive at port in the Philippines onboard the Philippine Navy’s BRP Ramon Alcaraz after a collision with a Chinese vessel near the Reed Bank in the South China Sea.

Photo: EPA-EFE

Beijing yesterday confirmed that a Chinese vessel hit a Philippine fishing boat in a collision that has increased tensions in the disputed South China Sea, but denied claims that it was a “hit-and-run.”

The Chinese trawler sailed away after the incident on Sunday last week near the Reed Bank (Lile Bank, 禮樂灘) that sank the fishing boat, sparking outrage from Philippine authorities and media.

While Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has largely set aside the once tense standoff 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 that the crew of the 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.

The incident was not a “hit-and-run,” as some Philippine authorities have claimed, because the trawler “confirmed the fishermen from the Filipino boat were rescued,” it added.

However, the 22 fishermen told a very different story, saying that they had spent hours in the water awaiting help.

They were eventually picked up by a Vietnamese boat and taken home on 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 Philippine Senator 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,” he added.

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.

Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin earlier this week said that he had lodged a diplomatic protest with China over the sinking.

Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Geng Shuang (耿爽) on Thursday called the incident “an ordinary maritime traffic accident.”

It was irresponsible for the Philippines to “politicize the incident without verification,” he said.

The South China Sea is a point of regional contention, because trillions of US dollars of goods pass through it, and rich hydrocarbon reserves are thought to sit deep beneath its waters. Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam also have competing claims to all or parts of the region.

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