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China’s Covid-19 imperialism spreads in South China Sea

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MANILA – As Southeast Asian nations grapple with Covid-19 outbreaks and the US Navy grounds ships due to infections among its personnel, China is leveraging the health crisis as a strategic opportunity to assert control in the South China Sea.

With China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and other forces unscathed by the virus, the Asian powerhouse is increasingly flexing its muscles through major military drills, consolidation of control of disputed features and, most recently, overawing smaller Southeast Asian claimants.

Earlier this month, China sank a Vietnamese fishing boat with eight crew members on board in the overlapping waters each claim off the Paracel Islands. A Vietnamese official from nearby Quang Ngai province complained “This is the first time a Chinese ship has hit and sunk boats in our commune,” according to various media reports.

Following the ramming and sinking, a Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessel detained the crew on a nearby island. Two nearby Vietnamese vessels, which sought to rescue their countrymen, were reportedly also apprehended by Chinese authorities.

All of them were later released by Chinese authorities, the reports said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying accused the Vietnamese fishing boat of intruding into Chinese waters and claimed the vessel “suddenly turned sharply” to ram the Chinese coast guard ship.

Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) shipmen during an operation in the South China Sea. Photo: AFP via Getty

“It rammed into our coastguard ship and sunk – all eight of the crew have been rescued,” claimed CCG spokesman Zhang Jun, in a counternarrative of the incident.

“We have urged Vietnam to take measures to avoid similar incidents from happening in light of the increasingly frequent illegal fishing activities in [Paracel] waters,” he said.

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