Vietnam, Chinese Boats Clash Near Disputed South China Sea Isles

Vietnamese fishing craft clashed with Chinese boats near the disputed Paracel Islands last week, underscoring simmering tensions between the two communist countries even as their leaders talk of improving relations.

Chinese vessels damaged a Vietnamese fishing boat with water cannons on June 7 and three days later a Vietnamese fishing boat was attacked and robbed of equipment and its catch, Thanh Nien newspaper reported Sunday. The clashes follow other recent incidents, with a Chinese marine police boat reportedly spraying water cannons at a Vietnamese fishing vessel in late May.

The Paracels remain a flashpoint between Vietnam and China and are part of overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. Vietnam has pushed back after China placed an oil rig in waters near the Paracels in May last year, triggering clashes between boats and anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam.

That’s even as the two countries talk about improving ties. Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai recently met Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao in Beijing, Vietnam News reported June 13. China is Vietnam’s largest trading partner.

“It’s part of a pattern of China’s actions in the Paracels, where China has a strong presence,” Le Hong Hiep, a lecturer at Vietnam National University in Ho Chi Minh City, said by phone. “These incidents have been going on for a long time and are now being reported more because the Vietnamese government wants to show they are protesting them and trying to protect Vietnamese fishermen.”

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has promised funds for Vietnamese fishermen to build stronger boats for protection.

‘Necessary Measures’

Authorities took “necessary measures” to pressure Chinese vessel 517 to leave Vietnam’s waters on June 8, Le Hai Binh, Vietnam’s foreign ministry spokesman, said on June 11 in response to a question about the actions of a Chinese oil exploration ship.

Saigon Tourist Corp., a government-owned company, is planning a tourist boat trip to the contested Spratly Islands starting June 22 to “arouse national pride and citizen consciousness of the sacred sovereignty of the country,” according to a posting on the Ho Chi Minh City government’s website.

For more, read this QuickTake: Territorial Disputes

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