MANILA (AFP) – China and the Philippines agreed to conduct a joint inquiry over the sinking of a Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese vessel in disputed waters, President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman said Saturday.
The June 9 incident, when the two boats collided in the South China Sea, has sparked public outrage.
Manila has accused the Chinese trawler of abandoning the vessel’s 22 Filipino crew members – later rescued by Vietnamese fishermen – but Beijing has rejected this.
China states the trawler merely “bumped” the vessel, and tried to rescue the fishermen – but was “afraid of being besieged by other Filipino fishing boats”.
Duterte accepted the Chinese government’s offer to conduct a joint investigation into the incident, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement, “to determine what really transpired”.
The probe team should include “highly qualified and competent individuals, with the Philippines and China having one representative each, and a third member coming from a neutral country”, Panelo added.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman had also called on Thursday for a joint probe — where each country could “properly handle the matter through friendly consultations”.
While Manila has filed a diplomatic protest against Beijing, Duterte has urged calm over the incident, setting aside the Philippines’ territorial row with China to court trade and investments.
“To be clear, we are by no means relinquishing any inch of our sovereign rights, nor compromising the rights of our 22 fishermen. We are demanding justice for our countrymen, and we are using all legal means toward that end,” Panelo said.
The incident – which has fed into outrage over China’s expansive claims to the waterway – occurred off Reed Bank, a fish and natural gas-rich area of submerged coral reefs.
It is claimed by China, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan also have claims to all or part of the flashpoint sea, a key waterway for trillions of dollars in global trade each year.