A recent attack on a Vietnamese fishing boat by a Chinese surveillance vessel has prompted two foreign affairs experts from the Southeast Asian nation to call for a more assertive stance by Hanoi toward what many in Vietnam see as Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.
On Sept. 29, five Chinese crew on the surveillance vessel rammed the starboard side of captain Dang Dung’s boat where it was sailing off the disputed Paracel Islands (in Vietnamese, Hoang Sa) and jumped on board, where they attacked 10 fishermen with knives and electric-shock batons, according to a Vietnamese state media report.
The Chinese forced them to the prow of the boat where they made them bow and interrogated them for an hour. Afterwards, the Chinese confiscated two tons of fish from the boat, communication devices and fishing gear and sailed away, leaving the punctured Vietnamese boat behind to sink.
The damaged boat made it to nearby Da Loi Island, but sank just after another Vietnamese fishing vessel rescued the fisherman in response to an SOS call. All 10 crew members from Binh Chau village, Binh Son district, in Quang Ngai province were saved and arrived at Ly Son island on Monday.
Dang Xuong Hung, a former Vietnamese diplomat who lives in exile in Switzerland, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that the Chinese are attacking Vietnamese fishermen to show the world that Beijing controls the disputed Paracel and Spratly (Truong Sa) islands in the South China Sea, which the Vietnamese call the East Sea.
“That is what they are announcing to the international community, … but the fishermen are the people who suffer the most and do not have any protection from the military,” he said.
Vietnam and China have been engaged in a lengthy dispute over sovereignty of the islands. Last year, Vietnam vehemently opposed the stationing of a Chinese oil rig in disputed waters, which caused minor maritime confrontations and deadly rioting on Vietnam’s mainland.
But Dang Xuong Hung believes Vietnam cannot escape China’s influence, even after signing the Trans-Pacific Partnership with the United States on Oct. 5 to create a balance in the region and avoid being pressured by it more powerful neighbor.
“The upcoming visit of [Chinese leader] Xi Jinping will be a test to see if Vietnam wants to escape China’s orbit or if it still wants to go between the U.S. and China,” he said. Xi is expected to visit Hanoi in November.
Chinese forces have attacked and robbed 20 Vietnamese boats off the Paracel Islands since May, according to Phan Huy Hoang, deputy chief of Quang Ngai’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Vietnam’s Thanh Nien News reported.
A good opportunity
Vu Cao Phan, former deputy chairman of the Vietnam-China Friendship Committee, said Vietnam must propose to China holding negotiations about the Paracels, and added that Xi Jinping’s upcoming visit would be a good opportunity to address the issue.
“When negotiations are going on, both sides need to restrain from assertive action,” Vu Cao Phan said. “We can’t predict the result, but we need to negotiate. First of all, we need to negotiate with China the rights of the Vietnamese fishermen to fish around the Paracels. That right was established thousands of years ago and must be preserved.”
Vietnam’s relationship with China must be preserved, he said. “but we need to make China understand that Vietnam will not let it do whatever it wants or tell Vietnam whatever it wants it to do.”
In April, Xi Jinping told Nguyen Phu Trong, general secretary of Vietnam's Communist Party, that the two countries had to manage and control their maritime disputes and maintain peace in the South China Sea.
In late May, another Chinese vessel rammed and sank a Vietnamese fishing boat near the controversial oil rig in the South China Sea, although all 10 fishermen aboard were rescued by other boats.
On Tuesday, Vietnam criticized China for building two lighthouses on Cuarteron Reef and Johnson South Reef in the Spratly Islands, saying their construction violated its sovereignty and escalated tensions between the two nations.
Reported by Gia Minh for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.