THE Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has expressed deep concern over the reported sinking on April 3, 2020 of a Vietnamese fishing vessel in the South China Sea, even as it sought “forbearance and good behavior to each and every government; and to extend that forbearance and behavior to people under our respective jurisdictions.”
In a statement, the agency said: “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.”
Alluding to a 2019 incident when a Chinese vessel bumped a Filipino fishing boat, causing it to sink and leaving the fishermen at the mercy of the sea until a Vietnamese party arrived and rescued them, the DFA added: “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.”
Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) has lodged an official protest with Beijing, accusing the China Coast Guard (CCG) of using one of its vessels to “ram and sink” a Vietnamese fishing boat near one of the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea (SCS).
The Hanoi MOFA said that on April 3, Vietnamese fishing boat QNg 90617 TS, with eight fishermen aboard, had been “hindered, rammed and sunk” the previous day by a CCG vessel. Hanoi claims their boat was carrying out “normal fishing activities” near Chinese-controlled Woody Island, which is also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.
The MoFA said the fishermen have all returned safely to Vietnam, but accused the CCG of not only “violating Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Paracels” but also of causing loss of property and endangering “the lives, safety and legitimate interests of the Vietnamese fishermen”.
The DFA said given the positive momentum on the discussions on a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC), “it is crucial that such incidents be avoided and that differences be addressed in a manner that enhances dialogue and mutual trust.”
It added: “The continued strengthening of regional relations is especially critical in light of the ASEAN-China joint commitment to collectively tackle the ongoing crisis brought about by the Covif-19 pandemic, as declared in the Statement of the Special ASEAN-China Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Covid-19), issued on February 20, 2020.”
The DFA said ASEAN stood by China in that meeting witnessed by all the world. “ASEAN’s support proved well merited as we had no doubt it would when China extended extensive assistance to countries like the Philippines and as far afield as Italy to combat Covid-19.”
The DFA pointed out, however, that “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. Or again all of us will ultimately fail and suffer the consequences. Its solution is still distant and must extend to everyone or no one.”
There is never a good time, added the DFA, “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.”
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,” concluded the DFA.