MANILA - The Philippine government on Wednesday stood with Vietnam after a Chinese ship sank a Vietnamese vessel in the disputed South China Sea last week.
In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs recalled the June 2019 incident when a Chinese vessel rammed and sank a Filipino fishing boat, abandoning 22 Philippine fishermen at sea who were then rescued by Vietnamese fishers.
The DFA said it was "crucial" that such incidents be avoided as these "undermine the potential of a genuinely deep and trusting regional relationship" between China and Southeast Asian nations.
"Our own similar experience revealed how much trust in a friendship is lost by it; and how much trust was created by Vietnam’s humanitarian act of directly saving the lives of our Filipino fishermen," it said in a statement.
"We have not stopped and will not stop thanking Vietnam. It is with that in mind that we issue this statement of solidarity."
Both the Philippines and China, along with Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, have partial claims to the resource-rich South China Sea, where China lays near total ownership.
On April 2, a Chinese ship hit a Vietnamese fishing boat with 8 crew members near the Paracel Islands, Vietnamese authorities said Friday, according to a report by the South China Morning Post.
China captured the vessel's crew and those of 2 other Vietnamese boats which came to the rescue, they said.
Beijing, however, said it tried to avoid the Vietnamese boat which “suddenly turned sharply." It released the Vietnamese crew on Thursday evening.
The strengthening of regional relations between China and the ASEAN is "especially critical" as nations battle the COVID-19 pandemic, the DFA said.
"There is never a good time to indulge in provocations; they usually end in defeat of aggression or a devastating price of victory. But it is always a good time to rise in the defense and affirmation of our respective sovereignties and in the peace and stability of our region especially in a time of pandemic," it said.
"The COVID-19 crisis is a crisis like no other in the past; not just in its potential calamitous scale, but in the hope to contain and stop it by unstinting cooperation and fullest trust [among] all countries, on the realization that if any of us fails the rest will follow; and if any of us succeeds that success must be extended to the rest of the world. Its solution is still distant and must extend to everyone or no one."
The DFA thanked China for support as the Philippines faced a pandemic that began in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Beijing earlier donated face masks and test kits to Manila.
It, however, sought discipline in the waters, saying incidents surrounding the maritime dispute must not disturb global efforts to quell the coronavirus outbreak.
"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.
"As we have said the creation of new facts in the water will never give rise to legal right anywhere or anytime. We therefore urge forbearance and good behavior to each and every government; and to extend that forbearance and behavior to people under our respective jurisdictions."
The United States on Monday condemned China’s sinking of the Vietnamese vessel, its state department said as it accused Beijing of “exploiting the world’s focus on addressing this global pandemic to assert its unlawful maritime claims in the South China Sea."
- Report from Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News