05/27/2014, 00.00
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South China Sea: Hanoi accuses Beijing of sinking a Vietnamese ship

A Vietnamese trawler sunk after clashing with Chinese vessels in an area just off a contested platform. Vietnam says the ship was "rammed" and the act constitutes “attempted murder". China speaks of a "confrontation" between the two parties and a " timely" rescue of sailors in distress.

Hanoi ( AsiaNews / Agencies) - A Vietnamese vessel sank after it collided with a Chinese vessel near a recently built Chinese oil rig in a disputed area of the South China Sea. Both countries are blaming the other for the incident, which took place 17 nautical miles south of the contested platform: the Coast Guard in Hanoi reports that the boat was surrounded by 40 Chinese ships, and was rammed . The sailors on board accuse their Chinese counterparts of "attempted murder " . In contrast, the official Chinese state media Xinhua reports that the Vietnamese fishing vessel collided with Beijing vessels and capsized.

Analysts and international policy experts point out that the incident will be a source of further conflict and tension between the two communist countries. China's aggressive attitude has sparked a wave of protests in Vietnam, which has assumed a violent drift with riots and arson attacks. The violence was sparked by China's decision in early May, to build a platform for oil exploration, the Haiyang Shiyou 981 off the east coast of Vietnam. A move that has exacerbated nationalism of a large portion of the Vietnamese population , which has responded with street protests that have taken a violent drift characterized by riots and assaults that have led to at least 2 deaths and 140 injured.

The fishermen on board the Vietnamese vessel say the episode amounts to attempted murder and protest against China's "perverse , brutal and inhumane" actions. Moreover, according to the Hanoi the incident occurred within the territorial waters of Vietnam. Beijing rejects the charges and adds that "the Vietnamese crew of the ship was rescued in an appropriate and timely manner".

Meanwhile, a group of lawyers in Vietnam is preparing legal action to be submitted to an international tribunal , against Beijing's decision to place the oil rig in the disputed waters and attacks on ships flying the flag of Hanoi. In response , China has raised the nationalist and imperialist rhetoric in the South China Seas, as reported by an official government source for whom Vietnam's claims over the Paracels are "absurd and laughable".

Vietnam and the Philippines have been increasingly worried about Beijing's imperialism in the South China and East China seas. The Chinese government claims most of the sea (almost 85 per cent), including sovereignty over the disputed Spratly and Paracel islands, in opposition to Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia. In recent months, China has used various political, economic and diplomatic means to hamper non-Chinese vessels from fishing or moving through the disputed waters. For the United States, which backs the claims of Southeast Asia nations, Beijing's so-called 'cow tongue' line is both "illegal" and "irrational". Anyone with a hegemonic sway over the region would have a strategic advantage, in terms of seabed (oil and gas) development, but also in trade since two thirds of the world's maritime trade transit through it.


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