MANILA -- Beijing will "thoroughly and seriously" investigate a recent collision between Chinese and Filipino vessels in disputed waters that ignited fresh diplomatic tensions, its envoy to the Philippines said Friday.
China shares the Philippines "concerns" about the incident near Reed Bank (Recto Bank) in the South China Sea, said Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua, in a message to Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo.
"If it were true that it was Chinese fishing boat which did it, they would be duly educated and punished for their irresponsible behavior," he said.
"Incidents happen even in the best regulated family. We hope this incident could be held in a proper context," he said.
The Philippines filed a diplomatic protest over the collision, wherein the Chinese were accused of leaving 22 Filipino fishermen out at sea after their boat sank.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said it was an "ordinary maritime accident" and he warned against "irresponsibly politicizing" the collision.
The Reed Bank contains offshore gas reserves that both countries claim ownership of, despite it being located within the Philippines' 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone. Both countries say they are seeking ways to jointly tap those deposits.
Despite a long history of rows with China over the South China Sea, President Rodrigo Duterte has pursued warmer ties with Beijing in exchange for billions of pledged loans and investment.
An international arbitration panel in 2016 ruled the Philippines had sovereign rights to exploit the resources at Reed Bank. China did not recognize the case or the verdict. -- with a report from Reuters