Vietnam Says Chinese Ship Rammed Fishing Boat Off its Coast

Vietnam demanded compensation after saying a Chinese ship rammed a fishing boat off its coast, marking the first incident between the neighboring countries since China announced a fishing ban earlier this month.

The May 20 clash involved a Vietnamese vessel from the central province of Quang Ngai carrying 15 fisherman, according to a statement posted yesterday on the website of Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It took place within Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone, according to the statement, which didn’t specify an exact location.

“The actions of the Chinese ships seriously infringed upon Vietnamese sovereignty, rights and jurisdiction in the Eastern Sea, damaging the property and threatening the lives of Vietnamese fishermen,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, referring to the South China Sea.

Competition for fish, oil and gas in the South China Sea has increased tensions in recent years as countries become more assertive in enforcing territorial claims. Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou this month froze the hiring of Filipino workers and urged citizens to avoid visiting the Philippines after one of its Coast Guard crews killed a 65-year-old Taiwanese fishermen.

China imposed a unilateral fishing ban in the South China Sea from May 16 to Aug. 1, an annual stipulation that has been in effect since 1999, according to the official Xinhua news agency. Vietnam said on May 16 the prohibition violates its sovereignty in parts of the waters.

‘Illegal Fishing’

Vietnam’s boat was near the Paracel Islands, and conducted “illegal fishing operations,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a briefing in Beijing today.

“The accusation made by Vietnam against China is totally inconsistent with the facts,” he told reporters. “We urge the Vietnamese side to take effective measures to educate and manage its fishermen so as to stop such kind of illegal fishing activities.”

In March, the two countries sparred after Vietnam said a Chinese ship fired on Vietnamese fishermen near the Paracel Islands, which China took from Vietnam in a 1974 battle. China said its actions were necessary and the boat wasn’t damaged.

China’s increased capability to defend its maritime claims combined with depleted fishing resources in areas near its shores has led to increased tension with neighboring countries, according to Zhang Hong Zhou, a senior analyst at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

Easy Escalation

“Unilateral action against each other’s fishermen will cause bigger problems,” Zhang said by phone. “It can easily become a major diplomatic and security conflict if you can’t handle it well.”

The Philippines on May 21 said it planned to file a diplomatic protest against China after a Chinese naval vessel escorted a fishing ship near a South China Sea shoal patrolled by Filipino soldiers.

An exclusive economic zone refers to an area of sovereignty stretching 200 nautical miles from a country’s coastal baseline, according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

— With assistance by Daniel Ten Kate, and Jason Folkmanis

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