Philippines threatens to cut ties with China over boat sinking

Activists hold placards with anti-China slogans during a protest in front of the Chinese consulate in Manila on Wednesday, June 12, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 14 June 2019

Philippines threatens to cut ties with China over boat sinking

  • Anger grows over ‘cowardly action’ that left 22 seamen fearing for their lives
  • Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. said he has already filed a diplomatic protest over the incident.

MANILA, Philippines: The Philippines is prepared to cut diplomatic ties with China if it is shown that the sinking of a Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese vessel in the disputed South China Sea was intentional, a Malacanang spokesperson said on Thursday.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. said he has already filed a diplomatic protest over the incident.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Wednesday said a Chinese vessel is believed to have collided with the Filipino fishing boat near Recto Bank around midnight on Sunday, June 9. The Filipino vessel, the FB Gimver1, was reportedly anchored at the time of the incident. 

The Philippine government strongly condemned “the cowardly action of the Chinese fishing vessel and its crew” for abandoning 22 Filipino fishermen as their boat sank.

The fishermen were rescued six hours laters by a Vietnamese fishing vessel that brought them to safety with help from the Philippines Armed Forces’ (AFP) Western Command (Wescom).

President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesperson, Salvador Panelo, said that if the sinking was intentional, “it’s an act of aggression.”

“We will cut off diplomatic relations if there are aggressive acts. First, we will file a diplomatic protest. If we are not content with their explanation, (and) we find out that it was intentional, that will be another story,” Panelo said.

“We will not allow ourselves to be assaulted, bullied or to be the subject of such barbaric, uncivilized and outrageous actions from any source.” He said Malacanang had called on the Chinese government to investigate the collision.

“We don’t exactly know what ship was involved. We want to find out first,” he said.

The government will also wait for China’s response to the diplomatic protest.

Panelo said there was no need for the Philippine government to summon the Chinese ambassador to explain the incident.

“If he’s listening now, he should explain,” he said.

According to the spokesperson, Duterte was “outraged” by the incident.

“Whether the collision was accidental or intentional, common decency and the dictates of humanity require the immediate saving of the crew of the Philippine vessel,” said Panelo.

He said the territorial dispute between the countries should not be “an impediment for the offending vessel to lend a hand to the distressed crew.” 

“The captain and the crew of the Chinese vessel should not have left the injured party without any assistance or succor. Such act of desertion is as inhuman as it is barbaric. It is clear violation of maritime protocols as well as an infringement of internationally accepted practice of assisting a vessel in distress,” said Panelo.

Philippine Navy (PN) Flag Officer-in-Command, Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad, said that regardless of who is at fault in a collision at sea, vessels that sustained minimal or no damage are obligated to rescue seamen whose lives are under threat.

He said this rule is mandated by the “seafarer’s conscience” and is recognized under international maritime law.

Meanwhile, an expert on maritime accident investigation, has urged caution until more is known about the collision.

“At this moment there is no smoking gun that the offending vessel was Chinese. I advise caution, given the obvious tension. Such incidents usually have fault on both sides,” Bob Couttie told Arab News.

“I doubt the deliberate ramming of an unidentified vessel at the risk of severe damage to one’s own in the dead of night. I would look at watch-keeping practices on both vessels, if possible,” he said.

“Poor watch-keeping is the most common cause of such incidents.”

Kartarpur corridor deal between Pakistan and India to be signed on Oct. 24

Updated 14 min 15 sec ago

Kartarpur corridor deal between Pakistan and India to be signed on Oct. 24

  • Border crossing will give Indian Sikhs visa-free access to Darbar Sahib in Pakistan

NEW DELHI, LAHORE: India has postponed signing a deal that will allow Sikhs to visit a holy shrine in neighboring Pakistan without a visa, a Foreign Ministry official in New Delhi was reported as saying.

The Kartarpur Corridor connects the Sikh shrines of Dera Baba Nanak Sahib, in India’s Punjab region, to the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur, Pakistan. 

The visa-free border crossing will be inaugurated next month, days ahead of one of Sikhism’s most sacred festivals and the 550th birthday of the religion’s founder.

Media reports said that the signing of the deal had been pushed back by a day to Oct. 24 and that C. L. Das, an official handling internal security at India’s Ministry of Home Affairs, would meet Pakistan officials along the border to sign the agreement.

The corridor is a rare example of cooperation and diplomacy between the two South Asian rivals, who came to the brink of war in February following a suicide attack in Indian-administered Kashmir. 

Ties nose-dived further in August when India flooded its portion of the disputed valley with troops, imposed a communications lockdown and revoked the special legal status of the territory.

But finalizing the corridor project has proved tricky.

Earlier this week, India’s External Affairs Ministry said it was disappointed by Pakistan’s decision to levy a $20 service fee per pilgrim.

“It is a matter of disappointment that while understanding has been reached on most of the elements for facilitating the visit of pilgrims from India, Pakistan continue to insist on levying a service fee,” said the ministry. “Government has consistently urged Pakistan that in deference to the wishes of the pilgrims, it should not levy such a fee. While agreeing to sign the agreement, the government of Pakistan has been once again urged to reconsider its insistence to levy service fee on pilgrims. India would be ready to amend the agreement accordingly at any time.”

The connecting bridge at the border was also a significant issue. India favored an elevated bridge but Pakistan was only willing to build an embankment, fearing a possible breach in security.

New Delhi said all the infrastructure was in place in time for the project’s inauguration, which is expected to be attended by former Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh.

Islamabad has also invited Singh to be part of the inaugural ceremony but he has yet to accept. Despite the bumps in the road Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was upbeat about the unveiling.

“Pakistan is all set to open its doors for Sikhs from all across the globe, as the construction work on the Kartarpur project enters final stages and will be open to the public on 9th November 2019,” he posted on Facebook. “World’s largest gurdwara will be visited by Sikhs from across India and other parts of the world.”

Although the opening of the corridor is unlikely to lead to any kind of bilateral engagement or rapprochement between the two nations, Sikhs will be relieved that it is easier to access the shrine in Kartarpur. 

The community has long sought easier access to Kartarpur, a village just four kilometers over the border in Pakistan, as it used to demand a lengthy visa and travel process.

Pilgrims will get special permits to access the shrine. Up to 5,000 pilgrims will be allowed to access the corridor daily.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the Indian side of the corridor, but it is unclear if he will cross into Pakistan afterwards.