Vietnam is looking into a report that Chinese armed vessels have harassed Vietnamese ships in the East Sea, as senior officials have strongly denounced such an act as “violent” and “provocative.”
The Southern Vietnam Maritime Safety Corporation on Friday filed an official statement to the transport ministry, saying Chinese threats toward the company’s offshore supply vessels around the Spratly Islands has escalated.
Officials from the corporation based in Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province said that from time to time their vessels have been chased by Chinese ships on their way to bring food and other necessities to Vietnamese lighthouses in the area.
But the latest encounter on November 13, which lasted four hours, was particularly more violent as it was the first time a Chinese warship pointed guns at them.
Tran Van Nga, captain on the vessel threatened that day, said a Chinese ship showed up when his went past the Subi Reef, where China has carried out illegal construction work.
Two others appeared half an hour later and trapped the Vietnamese ship from the front and behind.
Then a Chinese warship of 4,800 metric tons came and shot flares toward the Vietnamese ship from around 50 meters while making some announcement in Chinese on the speaker, Nga said.
When several Vietnamese sailors used their phones to take photos and videos of the warship, it deployed more than ten soldiers to the deck who pointed their rifles at the Vietnamese crew, and removed the protective tarpaulin of their 37-mm gun, he said.
He said another Vietnamese vessel was harassed in a similar way on October 7, forcing it to leave the area. No guns were involved that time.
Vietnam manages nine lighthouses around the Spratly Islands to make sure all ships navigating in the East Sea are safe.
Each lighthouse is guarded by around nine people who usually stay there for at least nine months every year.
Pham Quoc Suy, general director of the maritime corporation, said the lighthouses operate under international laws and are recognized on the international maritime map.
“The Chinese warships have violated international regulations when they obstructed the journeys of our ships and affected Vietnam’s maritime safety mission in the East Sea,” he said.
Le Hai Binh, the spokesman of Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry, told Thanh Nien on Friday that local agencies are checking details of the encounter including the specific location to figure out a suitable diplomatic reaction.
“Vietnam strongly objects any acts using violence or threatening to use violence against Vietnamese vessels. Such acts violate international laws as well as the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea,” Binh said.
“They seriously threaten peace and stability in the region. They are totally unacceptable and unjustifiable.”
Rear Admiral Le Ke Lam, former director of the Navy Academy, also said Vietnam should not show tolerance to the Chinese threat but should let international communities know about the story.
Lam said the Chinese ships were “aggressive and provocative,” saying that China has no rights to intervene in the maritime operations that Vietnam has been doing for a very long time.
He said the world’s big powers should stop using their huge military potentials to bully small countries.
“You cannot say good things during diplomatic meetings and after that you let your subordinates do the wrong things.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Vietnam early this month when he said the two countries should increase political trust and collaboration in various fields.