Over the last two years, more than 4,000 Vietnamese fishing boats have been attacked, many sunk, in Vietnamese waters. The Church backs the fishermen’s protest. More than 7,000 Catholics in Vinh diocese marched to Kỳ Anh. The disputes over the territorial claims of the two countries are intensifying. China claims 85 per cent of the South China Sea.
Hanoi (AsiaNews) – More than 2,300 fishermen have been injured, gone missing or died in Vietnamese territorial waters in the South China Sea, this according to Nguyễn Văn T, deputy minister of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Since early August, more Vietnamese fishing vessels have been attacked and intimidated by China’s Navy. “Over the past two years, China’s ships have attacked, sunk, destroyed, or robbed more than 4,000 fishing boats of Vietnamese fishermen,” said the deputy minister.
On 6 August, Boat No. 40482TS was fishing some 48 nautical miles from the coast, not far from the Côn Đảo Islands when it was sunk by a Chinese ship. The eight men on board ended up in the water; seven were rescued. The body of the owner, Trương Công Ơn, has not been found yet.
In Quãng Ngãi Province, the Binh Châu Fishermen's Union reports another episode of violence, also in Vietnamese waters. On 7 August, “fishing boat numbered QNg 90289 TS” was approached by a “Chinese ship numbered 46106. [. . .] Armed Chinese sailors came on board with weapons like knives, crowbars, and iron sticks and destroyed the gear of the Vietnamese fishermen” and took the “locator machine, fish and food detector” as well as “all the food reserve”. Afterwards, the Chinese sank the boat, abandoning the crew at sea, who were rescued by another fishing boat.
"This is not the first time that fishing boats from Binh Định and Quãng Ngãi provinces were sunk by 'white ships' (Chinese Coast Guards),” said Phan Minh, a fisherman from Binh Châu. “My boat was also destroyed by a white ship numbered 46106. “The same thing happened on 16 August to five fishing boats from Tinh Kỳ village. [Chinese] ships are present in the waters of the Paracel Islands and along the coast of Vietnam to frighten fishermen."
"They are very aggressive," said shipowner Nguyễn Hữu Lâm. "We are fishermen working in a vast ocean; we dare not resist armed Chinese sailors. We fish in Vietnamese waters, but in spite of this we are intimidated. We are very worried about our livelihoods."
The crew of 46106 was involved in another act of aggression on 18 August, when they robbed and sunk Huỳnh Văn Khanh’s boat.
"Beijing wants to prevent Vietnamese people from fishing in the waters of the South China Sea along the so-called 'ox tongue',” international maritime law experts told AsiaNews. Mainland China claims 85 per cent of the 3.5 million square kilometres of the sea.
"The fishing boats of many places are threatened: Quảng Nam, Quảng Ngãi, Đànẵng, Bình Định, Nghệ An, Hà Tĩnh, Quảng Bình, etc. Such actions by the Chinese communist regime are affecting the lives of millions of people in Vietnam. In the near future, the country’s fishing industry is likely to disappear."
On 23August, Trần Văn Quí, president of the Union of Vietnam Fishermen, signed a letter of protest. The Vietnamese Fisheries Association has called on "Vietnamese authorities and agencies to raise their voice in protest against the Chinese government and to put into place effective measures to protect Vietnamese fishermen in waters under Vietnam's sovereignty."
The local Church has backed fishermen’s protest. On 27 August, more than 7,000 Catholics in Vinh diocese marched peacefully around the church of Kỳ Anh. The demonstrators asked the central government to implement "appropriate policies to protect the [Vietnam’s] sovereignty over the waters and islands as well as to protect fishermen".
At the end of the protest, a prayer Mass was celebrated to demand justice and remember the victims of the Formosa environmental disaster, which hit the central provinces of Vietnam last year, crippling the local economy and putting more than 40,000 fishermen out of work.
In view of some ambiguities in international law, China has laid claim to a huge swath of the South China Sea (85 per cent), including the Spratly and the Paracel Islands, also claimed by Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia (almost 85% of the territories).
In the past three years, disputes over the territorial claims of the two easternmost nations have intensified.
Most recently, Vietnam has come out against China’s announcement of upcoming military exercises in the controversial waters of the South China Sea.
For its part, China is upset by Vietnam's attempts to garner support among Southeast Asian nations and its growing ties with the United States, Japan and India.
Due to Chinese pressures, in July, Hanoi suspended oil activity in waters claimed by China.