US senators blast China over 'divisive' behavior in disputed waters amid COVID-19 pandemic
FILE - A Chinese Coast Guard ship prepares to anchor at Manila port on Jan. 14, 2020, for a port call. Earlier this month, a Chinese coast guard vessel rammed into a relatively smaller Vietnamese fishing boat in the South China Sea, causing the latter to turn over and sink.

US senators blast China over 'divisive' behavior in disputed waters amid COVID-19 pandemic

Patricia Lourdes Viray (Philstar.com) - April 13, 2020 - 12:59pm

MANILA, Philippines — US senators crossed party lines and slammed the Chinese government’s latest actions in the South China Sea at a time the world is preoccupied with containing the spread of the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) that started in China.

In a statement last April 10, Republican senators Jim Risch and Cory Gardner as well as Democrats Bob and Ed Markey condemned the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat by a Chinese coast guard vessel near Paracel Islands earlier this month.

The condemnation followed that one made by the Philippine government which last April 8 also expressed "deep concern" over the incident. The Department of Foreign Affairs said there is "never a good time to indulge in provocations."

In Washington, Risch, chairman of the US Senate foreign relations committee, said China's "deeply concerning" activities in the South China Sea are examples of the Chinese Communist Party's "blatant intimidation" of its neighbors to assert it claims in the contested waterway.

"The CCP is undermining regional stability at a time when the international community should be coming together to combat the COVID-19 pandemic," Risch said.

Menendez, also a committee member, pointed out that the actions of the Chinese coast guard was contrary to its duty to ensure safety in sea navigation, calling them “unsafe and unacceptable maritime behavior.”

"At a time when the international community should be working together to face a common foe, China’s continued divisive and aggressive behavior in the South China Sea is deplorable," Menendez said.

Gardner and Markey, chairman and ranking member of the US Senate Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy, respectively, also blasted China.

"This is a flagrant violation of international law and comes at a time when nations around the world are focused on combating the COVID-19 scourge that spread in part due to the Chinese Communist Party’s cover-up and negligence," Gardner said.

Markey, meanwhile, said Washington will continue to call out Beijing's efforts to assert its expansive claims in the South China Sea, areas of which were ruled to be under the jurisdiction of the Philippines in July 2016.

"The United States will not turn a blind eye to military coercion of Southeast Asian countries," Markey said.

On April 3, the Vietnam foreign ministry said it lodged a diplomatic protest before the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi over the incident that saw fishing boat QNg 90617 carrying eight fishermen getting “hindered, rammed and sunk” by a bigger Chinese coast guard vessel.

Specifically, China was asked to investigate the incident, strictly discipline the officers aboard the offending vessel and prevent similar incidents from happening again. It was unclear whether China agreed to the Vietnam’s demands.

"The above-mentioned Chinese vessel’s act violates Viet Nam's sovereignty over the Paracel Islands, causes property losses and endangers the lives, safety and legitimate interests of the Vietnamese fishermen," the Vietnamese foreign ministry said in a statement.

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