China refuses to have third party in boat sinking probe – Palace
MANILA, Philipppines — China has rejected the participation of a third party in an investigation of the June 9 sinking of a Philippine fishing boat in the heavily disputed South China Sea after being hit by a Chinese trawler that then abandoned the boat’s Filipino crew in the open sea.
Malacañang announced the rejection on Monday, but gave assurance that it would “suggest” a third party if separate inquiries led to conflicting findings.
“They offered a joint investigation, right? Which was accepted by President Duterte, but with a third party. They said to do away with the third party. We should be the only ones to sit down and talk,” presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said.
“For them, it is no longer needed. If we’re going to agree anyway, why the need for a third party?” Panelo said.
The Philippines has filed a diplomatic protest over what Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana called “hit-and-run” at Recto Bank, internationally known as Reed Bank, a resource-rich fishing ground in the West Philippine Sea, the waters within the Philippines’ 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.
The Philippine fishing boat Gem-Ver 1 was anchored when it was hit by a Chinese trawl vessel around midnight on June 9.
Instead of stopping, the trawler sailed away, leaving 22 Filipino fishermen to drown in the sea.
Two of the fishermen paddled small boats toward a speck of light on the horizon and found a Vietnamese boat there that then sailed to Recto Bank and rescued the Gem-Ver 1 crew.
The Palace initially condemned the abandonment of the Filipinos, but the President later played down the incident as just a “little maritime accident” and said the boat was merely “sideswiped.”
In a press briefing on Monday, Panelo cited a June 24 report from Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Santiago Sta. Romana, a copy of which he said he read on Sunday.
Romana reported meeting with officials of the Chinese foreign ministry, who relayed to him China’s rejection of a third party in the proposed maritime inquiry, he said.
Panelo said China preferred separate investigations, and then a meeting to resolve conflicting findings.
The two sides will have to resolve if the June 9 incident was intentional or an accident, and who is the guilty party, as well as the accountability of the Chinese in abandoning the Filipinos.
The Palace initially said it would “insist” on a third party if there were conflicting findings, but Panelo later clarified that what he meant was that Manila would “suggest” a third party.
“If they don’t agree then how can we resolve it? Some independent body. It does not necessarily have to be a country, an independent body,” Panelo said.
He said he was optimistic that the separate inquiries would not reach seriously conflicting findings.
Panelo said the Palace trusted the assurance of Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua that China would impose sanctions on its fishermen if proven guilty.
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