China warned Vietnam Thursday not to allow fishermen to intrude in its waters after Hanoi demanded the release of fishing boats and crew detained by Beijing near disputed islands in a new row between the neighbors.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the detention of the two boats and fishermen near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea last month was “lawful.”
"China has indisputable sovereignty over the Paracel Islands and their adjacent waters," he said at a press briefing.
"The Vietnamese side should take effective measures to educate and manage its fishermen and stop illegal fishing operations," Hong said, adding that fishing operations by Vietnamese ships in the area have infringed upon China's maritime rights and interests.
Hanoi has said the fishermen were detained in Vietnamese waters.
Vietnamese foreign ministry spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi on Wednesday demanded the "immediate and unconditional release of the fishermen."
He said the arrests “seriously violated Vietnam's sovereignty" and China must stop its "hindrance of Vietnamese fishermen.”
The owner of one of the boats, who is also the brother of one of those arrested, told RFA he had heard about the arrest in a phone call.
“My brother Le Lon and several of his sons [and others] went out to the sea on Feb. 29, with 10 people in the boat in total. They called back home and said that they were arrested after two days."
He said the owner of the other boat, identified only as Hien, said he had been told to pay a fine.
“Mr. Hien called his wife and said my boat was [held] at the same time. He told his wife they asked them to pay 70,000 Chinese yuan [ U.S.$ 11,112],” he said.
Luong Thanh Nghi said on Wednesday Vietnam would not pay the fine.
Vietnam, China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan have all laid claim to all or part of the disputed territories.
Last July, China and its Southeast Asian neighbors signed a set of guidelines on conduct in the region. However, a wider accord on which country owns what in the vast waters claimed by several nations remains elusive.
A standoff between Beijing and Hanoi over Vietnamese fishermen detained last July sparked a wave of anti-China protests in Vietnam.
Last week, Hanoi also said China had "seriously violated" Vietnam's sovereignty by allowing a Chinese oil company to open bidding for oil exploration near the Paracel islands.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese service. Translated by Viet Long. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.