Duterte accepts China’s joint probe offer

South China Sea
Activists display anti-China placards and flags during a protest at a park in Manila on June 18, 2019, after a Chinese vessel last week collided with a Philippine fishing boat which sank in the disputed South China Sea and sailed away sparking outrage. The sinking of the Filipino fishing boat by the Chinese vessel in the disputed South China Sea was "just a collision", the Philippine's President Rodrigo Duterte said on June 17 as he moved to soothe anger over the crash.
AFP / Ted Aljibe

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang announced Saturday President Rodrigo Duterte accepted China’s offer to conduct a joint probe into the allision between a Filipino fishing boat and a Chinese vessel near the Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea, saying the proposed setup should promote a swift resolution.

Duterte made the decision despite Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.’s rejection of China’s offer.

“The Palace wishes to inform our people that President Duterte welcomes and accepts the offer of the Chinese Government to conduct a joint investigation to determine what really transpired in Recto Bank and find a satisfactory closure to this episode,” the Palace said in a statement.

“To this end, the President wants the creation of a joint investigating committee that shall be composed of three groups of highly qualified and competent individuals, with Philippines and China having one representative each, and a third member coming from a neutral country,” it added.

Critics have voiced anger over the Chinese trawler's failure to rescue the 22 Filipino fishermen after what some Philippine officials have called a "hit-and-run" incident.

When Duterte made his first public comments about the June 9 incident, the usually outspoken leader downplayed the sinking and reiterated that his country was not ready to go to war against China. 

After the Recto Bank incident, Manila filed a diplomatic protest as critics of Duterte — who has largely set aside the Philippines' row with Beijing over the key waterway to court trade and investments — blasted how the Chinese boat left the Filipino fishermen in the open sea. 

"Having separate investigations by the two countries may raise speculation and accusation of bias. Such circumstance will put any finding by any side open to question and place the entire issue in a confused state," the Palace said.

"On the other hand, a joint and impartial investigation will not only promote the expedient resolution of the issue, it will also be in accordance with international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which places paramount emphasis on the use of peaceful means to resolve international disputes," it added.

In a Twitter post Friday, Locsin stressed the Philippines and China should conduct separate investigations over the incident.

“There will be no joint investigation. China and Philippines will conduct their respective investigations,” the country’s top diplomat said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang had said Beijing was pushing for such an arrangement “through friendly consultations based on mutually recognized investigation results.” — Ian Nicolas Cigaral with AFP


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