June 13 (UPI) -- The Philippines is condemning the actions of a Chinese boat crew after the vessel collided with then sunk a Filipino boat, leaving the Filipino fishermen to fend for themselves at sea.
The incident took place on Sunday evening in an area near Recto or Reed Bank in the West Philippine Sea, part of the Philippines' exclusive economic zone, said Manila's Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, according to the Philippine Star and other local news services on Thursday.
After the Chinese vessel crashed then sunk the Filipino boat, 22 fishermen were stranded at sea until a Vietnamese crew came to their rescue.
"We condemn in the strongest terms the cowardly action of the suspected Chinese fishing vessel and its crew for abandoning the Filipino crew," Lorenzana said as he thanked the captain and crew of the Vietnamese vessel on Wednesday.
The Vietnamese ship was passing by the area and were able to rescue the Filipinos, who had no access to communication networks and could not call for help.
The Philippines suggested Thursday bilateral relations with Beijing could take a hit following the incident, Rappler reported.
President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman Salvador Panelo said it is possible Duterte could either cut or weaken diplomatic ties with China, if the Chinese boat is found to have acted with malicious intent.
Panelo also called the actions "shocking and barbaric," whether or not the sinking was an accident.
In Beijing on Thursday, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang dismissed Philippine concerns, and described the collision and sinking as a "commonplace maritime incident."
But Geng also said the Chinese boat is deserving of "criticism" and that China will resolve the case in cooperation with the Philippines.
The two countries have been cooperating on infrastructure investments, as Duterte seeks to build the Philippine economy amid a tough and controversial war on drugs.