A fleet of Chinese vessels that blocked five Vietnamese boats in the Gulf of Tonkin has caused thousands of dollars of damage to fishing nets in the latest maritime clash between the two nations, one of the Vietnamese fishermen involved in the incident said Tuesday.
Dao Ngoc Duc, from east Thanh Khe commune in Thanh Khe district of Danang city, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that he saw the Chinese boats approaching in the early hours of Nov. 14.
“I saw them coming, and I chased them away,” he said about the incident last weekend. “I chased two boats away, but another two came. Then a lot more came. It seemed like hundreds.”
“I was trying to cast the fishing net…. I saw four Vietnamese surveillance boats, but they could not help. Our boats were too small. Their boats are designed to go far to the Philippines. Our boats were small, so we could only follow them.”
“They [Chinese boats] went by and destroyed our nets,” Duc said, even though some of the fishermen told the Chinese that they were fishing in Vietnamese waters. He estimated the cost of the destruction of the nets to be 300 million dong (U.S. $13,400).
Later in the day, Vietnamese marine police arrived and chase the Chinese vessels away, he said
Duc had a similar encounter with Chineseboats last year, and his nets were destroyed, he said, adding that he had to borrow money to replace the nets and continue his livelihood.
In 2014, I wrote a letter to authorities asking for help but got no response,” Duc said. “This time I informed the border guards and media, but I don’t know if this will help. Now my boat must stay onshore, because I have no money for nets or to go to sea.”
Another Chinese surveillance vessel attacked a Vietnamese fishing boat on Sept. 29 when it rammed the starboard side as it sailed off the disputed Paracel Islands (in Vietnamese, Hoang Sa) in the South China Sea, which the Vietnamese call the East Sea.
The Chinese crew jumped on board, attacked 10 fishermen with knives and electric-shock batons, and confiscated two tons of fish, communication devices and fishing gear. The Chinese then sailed away, leaving the punctured Vietnamese boat behind to sink.
The two communist countries have been engaged in a lengthy dispute over the sovereignty of the Paracel and Spratly (Truong Sa) islands, where Chinese forces have attacked several Vietnamese fishing boats.
Last year, Vietnam vehemently opposed the stationing of a Chinese oil rig in disputed waters, which caused minor maritime confrontations and deadly rioting in Vietnam that targeted Chinese businesses.
Defending its sovereignty
Meanwhile, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung told the National Assembly that the nation would strengthen its relations with China, while simultaneously defending its sovereignty in the disputed South China Sea, the Associated Press reported.
His remarks prompted delegate Truong Trong Nghia to raise questions about Vietnam’s economic dependence on China and how it will influence negotiations between the two nations over maritime disputes.
“Vietnam’s economy is increasingly dependent on China’s in most sectors,” Vietnam’s national television broadcaster VTV quoted Nghia as saying. “This threatens our economy. In many other countries in the world, China has been known to use money to manipulate politics."
“Constituents have suggested that we not borrow or accept any aid from China at least at the moment because it is involved in a sovereignty dispute with Vietnam and has even encroached upon Vietnam’s sovereignty,” he said.
Nghia asked whether Vietnam would be able to take the Chinese to court over sovereignty issues if it continues to receive aid and official development assistance from its much larger neighbor China in the form of loans with very low interest rates.
“If we have a referendum, then I think the majority will choose not to receive any loans from China,” he said. “We still have many other sources to borrow from.”
Observers praised Nghia for raising such issues, especially since National Assembly chairman Nguyen Sinh Hung did not publicly broach the topic of the South China Sea disputes with Chinese President Xi Jinping during his speech to lawmakers on Nov. 6 during an official visit to the country.
Hanoi’s state media had reported that Xi and Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang discussed the issue candidly during meetings, although the public remained unaware of what was said, a source previously told RFA.
I’m glad that delegate Nguyen Trong Nghia did what we expected him to do,” Chu Hao, former vice minister of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment, told RFA. “His question was to the point and showed his bravery…. I would like to see more delegates who dare to overcome their fear of speaking out.”
Likewise, economist Le Dang Doanh said he appreciated Nghia’s questions, which expressed the concerns of the Vietnamese people regarding territorial sovereignty.
“The Vietnamese people are worried about Xi’s announcement about their claims over the Spratly and Paracel islands, which Vietnam also claims,” he said.
He noted that Xi did not mention the issue during his official visit, but when he stopped in Singapore afterwards, he repeated previous assertions about China’s sovereignty over the islands, as he did during trips to the United States in September and United Kingdom in October.
“Xi gave Vietnam a credit of 1 billion yuan, equivalent to US $156 million,” Doanh said. “Many people worry that Xi Jinping can use this money to cover up his plan to take Vietnam’s islands.”
In addition to the grant, which will finance the building of schools and hospitals, China and Vietnam signed two bank loans worth more than U.S. $500 million, AP reported.
Nevertheless, Vietnam signed a strategic partnership with the Philippines on Tuesday to strengthen their security ties in light of China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea, Agence-France Presse reported.
China claims sovereignty over the Paracels, which are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan, and has similarly claimed the Spratlys, which Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia consider part of their sovereign territory. Brunei also has conflicting claims in the region.
The islands are located amid strategic shipping lanes, abundant fishing grounds, and oil and natural gas reserves.
Reported by Mac Lam and Gia Minh for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.