Statement: On the Sinking of a Vietnamese Fishing Vessel in the South China Sea

08 April 2020 - The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) expresses deep concern over the reported sinking on 03 April 2020 of a Vietnamese fishing vessel in the South China Sea. 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 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. 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.

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 COVID-19 pandemic, as declared in the Statement of the Special ASEAN-China Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), issued on 20 February 2020.

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. We remain deeply appreciative. In our small way we had helped when the crisis in Wuhan was at its worst. Our one good turn did not deserve China’s far more generous return. 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 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. 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.

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. END