- The Philippines is furiously demanding answers after an alleged “hit-and-run” incident in the South China Sea.
- The island nation alleged a Chinese fishing vessel rammed a Philippine ship, sank it, and then abandoned 22 Filipino fishermen in open water to drown. All the sailors were ultimately rescued by another ship nearby.
- The Philippines sent a formal diplomatic protest to Beijing on Thursday condemning the actions of the Chinese ship and urging China to investigate the matter.
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The Philippines is taking China to task over an alleged “hit-and-run” incident in which a Chinese fishing ship fled the scene after it slammed into an anchored Philippine vessel in the South China Sea, sinking it and abandoning 22 Filipino fishermen in open water to drown.
The troubling incident occurred this week near Reed Bank in the Spratly Islands, a disputed area in the South China Sea where Chinese naval and maritime militia forces have been increasingly active and, at times, forceful when enforcing its extensive sovereignty claims.
The crew of the sunken Philippine vessel was ultimately rescued by a Vietnamese ship operating nearby.
The Philippines sent a formal diplomatic protest to Beijing on Thursday in response to the alleged “hit-and-run” incident. Teodoro Locsin, the secretary of foreign affairs for the Philippines, characterized the abandonment of the Philippine crew, which is against maritime norms, as “contemptible and condemnable,” local media ABS-CBN reported.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana accused the Chinese ship of intentionally ramming the Philippine vessel FB Gimber1. Other Philippine defense officials have suggested the collision may have been an accident.
The incident is under investigation.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has sought closer ties to Beijing while at times sharply criticizing Washington, was “outraged” in the aftermath of the incident, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said, according to the South China Morning Post.
“We will not allow ourselves to be assaulted, to be bullied, to be the subject of such barbaric, uncivilized and outrageous actions,” he said at a press briefing on Thursday. “Whether it’s a form of bullying or not, it’s outrageous, it’s barbaric, it’s uncivilized, and we’re condemning it.”
The spokesman said that if the incident was intentional, it would be considered an “act of aggression.” Panelo added that the Philippines would consider cutting diplomatic ties with China.
There are, however, broader implications should the situation escalate.
Earlier this year, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson informed China that its paramilitary maritime militia could be considered a combatant force, and in March, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that “any armed attack on Philippine forces, aircraft or public vessels in the South China Sea will trigger mutual defense obligations.”
The US has also been involved in confrontations in the Spratly Islands, where the Philippines accused China of sending hundreds of ships to swarm a Philippine-controlled territory a few months ago. In September, a Chinese destroyer nearly slammed into a US Navy warship as it confronted the American vessel while the latter was conducting a freedom-of-navigation operation in the disputed waterway.
The Philippine foreign affairs secretary tweeted on Wednesday that the Philippines would be handling this situation alone. “F— the international community. This is our fight and in the end ours alone,” he wrote, without providing additional clarity.
While China claims indisputable sovereignty over the vast majority of the South China Sea, including the Spratlys, its claims were previously discredited by an international arbitration tribunal. Beijing rejected the ruling and the authority of the tribunal and has continued to take steps to reinforce its claims.
Whether the latest incident was in service of those efforts has yet to be determined.