Beijing, China — The sinking of a Filipino fishing boat by a suspected Chinese trawler in disputed waters was described by Beijing Thursday as an ordinary maritime accident after Manila accused the alleged Chinese crew of cowardice for fleeing the scene.
The Department of National Defense said Wednesday a suspected Chinese boat had collided with a Filipino craft anchored near Reed Bank in the West Philippine Sea, causing it to sink and leaving 22 crewmen to their fate.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang on Thursday called the incident “an ordinary maritime traffic accident,” and said China was still investigating.
He added, however: “If the relevant reports are true, regardless of the country from which the perpetrator came from, their behavior should be condemned.”
Geng said it was irresponsible for the Philippines to “politicize the incident without verification.”
Although Duterte has largely set aside the bitter dispute with Beijing over the resource-rich South China Sea, Manila does sometimes protest against Chinese action.
Like the Philippines, Vietnam has partial claims over the South China Sea, where Beijing has staked “indisputable sovereignty” and built artificial islands with military facilities and airstrips.
Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia also have claims in the area.
Reed Bank is about 150 kilometers (93 miles) off the Philippine island of Palawan. It is within Manila’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone and far from China’s nearest major landmass.