Hanoi on Thursday released video evidence to back its claim that Chinese patrol vessels rammed a Vietnamese fishing boat and caused it to capsize amid a simmering territorial dispute in the South China Sea.
The two countries had earlier accused one another of instigating the May 26 clash, which took place close to where Beijing deployed a giant oil rig last month near the disputed Paracel Islands in waters claimed by both countries.
The video, broadcast on state media, appeared to confirm Vietnam’s claim that Chinese vessels had encircled and rammed the wooden boat.
Speaking at a press conference in Hanoi on Thursday where the video was shown, Tran Duy Hai, deputy chair of Vietnam’s National Border Committee, accused China of lying about the incident in claims it made to the United Nations.
“What China said in their letter to the U.N. was fabricated, and distorted the facts,” he told reporters.
“The images show that China’s boats hit Vietnam’s boats and China can’t provide any images to prove otherwise.”
China’s coast guard had tried to block Vietnamese boats from going to rescue the fishing boat, he said, blaming Beijing for escalating tensions in the waters by deploying the oil rig.
“The deployment of oil rig by China is a [form of] violence, and a threat against safety that can’t be regarded as [part of China’s] peaceful rise.”
All 10 crew members were rescued from the sinking boat, which China contended had rammed into a Chinese ship while it trying to get to the oil rig about 17 nautical miles away.
Scores of ships from both sides are involved in a tense standoff over the rig, with several confrontations having occurred involving collisions and the use of water cannons, but the videotaped clash was the first to sink a boat.
Ngo Ngoc Thu, deputy commander of Vietnam's coast guard, said that 24 Vietnamese law enforcement boats have been rammed and damaged since the standoff began.
Twelve Vietnamese officers have been injured and 12 Vietnamese fishing boats have been intercepted and threatened by Chinese vessels, deputy head of the Vietnam Fisheries Surveillance Department Ha Le said.
On Tuesday Vietnam sent a third official letter to China demanding it remove the oil rig. Beijing has not responded.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Thursday it was Vietnamese ships that were being aggressive and that Chinese ones were defending themselves.
"In these seas, China's ships were in a defensive mode…. Who was it who took the initiative for the clash? Who was it who created tension on the scene? This is very clear," he told reporters.
Vietnam said on Thursday the rig had moved position but was still in its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone and on its continental shelf. China says it is operating within its waters.
The retrieved fishing boat is to be displayed in a planned museum dedicated to the Paracel Islands, state media outlet Vietnam Television reported.
China’s deployment of the oil rig in early May sparked anti-China riots in Vietnam that killed at least four people and saw foreign-owned factories set on fire.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, rejecting rival claims from Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei.
Asian countries have been pushing China to agree to a code of conduct for about a decade to avoid conflicts in the South China Sea, which is known in Vietnam as the East Sea.
Reported by RFA's Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.