In a rare criticism of China, the Philippines on Wednesday decried the sinking of a Vietnamese vessel by the Chinese coast guard off the South China Sea, calling it a "provocative" act that undermines peace and security in the disputed waters.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) issued a "statement of solidarity" in response the incident wherein a Vietnamese fishing vessel, with eight fishermen onbard, was rammed and sunk by the Chinese vessel on April 2.
"There is never a good time to indulge in provocations; they usually end in defeat of aggression or a devastating price of victory," the DFA said.
China's latest action complicates the already tense situation in the resource-rich South China Sea, where six Asian goverments - Philippines, China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan - have overlapping claims.
"The DFA values the maintenance of peace and stability in the South China Sea and notes that such incidents undermine the potential of a genuinely deep and trusting regional relationship between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China."
The DFA said its "deep concern" over the incident, which also happened to a Philippine fishing vessel last year, prompted it to issue the statement of solidarity expressing support for Vietnam.
In June 2019, a Chinese vessel rammed a Filipino fishing boat causing it to sink, and later on abandoned the crew in Reed Bank off the western Philippine province of Palawan.
Its crewmen were left stranded at sea for four hours after the Chinese vessel ran away. They were rescued by a passing Vietnamese ship.
Unlike his predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, President Rodrigo Duterte, who has adopted a friendly stance towards China, has refrained from publicly criticizing Beijing.
"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. We have not stopped and will not stop thanking Vietnam. It is with that in mind that we issue this statement of solidarity," the DFA said.
Given the positive momentum on the discussions on a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC), Manila said "it is crucial that such incidents be avoided and that differences be addressed in a manner that enhances dialogue and mutual trust."
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China, the DFA said, should instead work closely together to fight the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), which was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan, that has swept across the world and killed thousands.
"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 between 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," the DFA said.
"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," it added. -MDM, GMA News