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Are We Finally Standing Up to China?

The Philippines joins Vietnam in denouncing China in the West Philippine Sea.
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In June 2019, a Philippine fishing boat was sunk by a Chinese vessel. The latter rammed it, leaving 22 Filipino fishermen struggling for their lives. Luckily, a Vietnamese vessel was nearby and rescued the drowning fishermen. President Duterte called the incident “just a collision.”

The Vietnamese rescuers only uttered three words when they found the Filipino fishermen: “Vietnam. Philippines. Friends.” That’s when the Filipinos knew they were being rescued.

In June 2020, just days after the anniversary of the ramming incident, another Chinese vessel rammed a Philippine fishing vessel carrying 14 Filipino fishermen. The Philippine Coast Guard continues its search for the 14 missing fishermen, who are feared dead.

The circumstances that surrounded the two incidents were eerily similar. The collisions happened past midnight in the West Philippine Sea and, in both instances, the Filipinos were left to fend for themselves.

According to the Philippine Coast Guard, the Hong Kong-based cargo vessel MV Vienna Wood collided with the FV Liberty 5 after midnight on June 28, about 27 kilometers off the western coast of Mamburao, Mindoro Occidental. The cause of the collision is being investigated. The Chinese vessel was en route to Australia and was passing through Philippine territorial waters when the accident occurred.

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But unlike last year, the Philippines decided to denounce China this time around. It joins Vietnam in voicing alarm over Chinese activities in the West Philippine Sea.

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Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said it is unacceptable for China to hold exercises beyond its own waters.

“Doing it in the contested areas [will] sound the alarm bells for all the claimants. That’s highly provocative. That is very concerning, we view that with alarm,” Lorenzana said in a security forum with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Vietnam is the current chair of ASEAN and, for the longest time, has been the strongest voice in the South China Sea in denouncing China’s expansion activities there.

In a diplomatic note sent to China, Vietnam underscored China’s alleged violations of Vietnamese sovereignty. It also warned that any further activities by China will damage its relationship with ASEAN, the region’s most powerful bloc economically and politically.

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“The drills further complicate the situation, and are detrimental to the relationship between China and ASEAN,” said Vietnam’s spokesperson for foreign affairs. In April, a Chinese surveillance vessel sunk a Vietnamese fishing boat.

Since 2016, Vietnam has been taking up the cudgels for the Philippines in the fight for sovereign rights in the South China Sea. But it can only go so far when it comes to deterring China. It is high time for the Philippine government to muster its own courage and claim what is rightfully ours in the eyes of international law.

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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