Vietnam has accused a Chinese vessel of attacking a Vietnamse fishing boat off the coast of Vietnam's Paracel (Hoang Sa) Islands, calling the incident a breach of international maritime law.
"This is a very serious case, violating Vietnam's sovereignty, threatening the lives and sabotaging the properties of Vietnamese fishermen," Luong Thanh Nghi, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said in a statement late Monday.
The attack is against the spirit of the talks in which Beijing committed to fully follow the Declaration on the Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), Nghi said.
"Vietnam resolutely opposes this and demands that China investigate and strictly deal with the above wrongdoings and compensate for the damages carried by Vietnamese fishermen," he said.
He also said Vietnamese Foreign Ministry officials on Sunday met representatives of the Chinese embassy in Hanoi. The Vietnamese officials handed over a diplomatic note objecting to the attack, he added.
Tran Van Trung, captain of the attacked vessel, said the incident had happened on May 20 when he and 15 crew members were some 27 nautical miles off Quang Ngai Province's Tri Ton Island of the Paracels, when they were surrounded by a fleet of 18 Chinese boats. The waters where the incident took place has been considered Vietnam's exclusive economic zone.
The Chinese boats continuously forced him to drive his boat away, Trung was quoted by Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper as saying. The Chinese forces filmed and photographed them as well, he said.
Later a red boat twice crashed into the Vietnamese boat, causing VND100 million (US$4,689) in damages, according to the Tuoi Tre report.
In March, Vietnam also said a Chinese ship fired flares at four Vietnamese fishing boats from Quang Ngai Province that were fishing in their traditional fishing grounds in the Paracels, a move Vietnam criticized as "inhumane and dangerous".
Over the years, hundreds of Vietnamese fishermen and their crews have fallen prey to China's increasingly aggressive patrols around the disputed islands in the East Sea, internationally known as the South China Sea.
China and four members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei are embroiled in sovereignty disputes over the East Sea, internationally known as the South China Sea.
China illegally claims sovereignty over 80 percent of the East Sea.
The waters are thought to hold vast untapped reserves of oil and natural gas that could potentially place China, the Philippines, Vietnam, and other claimant nations alongside the likes of Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Qatar.
In 1974, taking advantage of the withdrawal of the American troops from the Vietnam War, China invaded the Paracel Islands. A brief but bloody naval battle with the forces of the then US-backed Republic of Vietnam ensued.
Vietnam's behemoth northern neighbor has illegally occupied the islands ever since. But a post-1975 united Vietnam has never relinquished its ownership of the Paracel Islands and continues to keep military bases and other facilities on the Spratly Islands.
Vietnam has also recently voiced its opposition to and dismissed China's unilateral ban on fishing in the East Sea that is effective until August.
Vietnam said the banned area encompasses its waters and violates its sovereignty over the Paracels.
To make matter worse, in early this month, China sent one of its largest fishing fleets on record to the disputed Spratly (Truong Sa) Islands, a move analysts say that will inevitably deplete fish stocks further, affecting Southeast Asian littoral states that rely heavily on the same fisheries.
By doing so, analysts say Beijing can dare others to try to expel Chinese fishing boats from one expanse while daring other nations' fishing boats to enter another expanse patrolled by Chinese vessels.
"China will continue to creatively seek new ways to assert its claims commensurate with its increased presence in the area and widening power gap vis-a-vis the other claimants," said Ristian Supriyanto, a maritime expert with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
"Although these assertions are actually disregarded by the other claimants, they are enough to demonstrate Chinese resolve," Supriyanto told Thanh Nien News.
The analysts say if China is not opposed by claimant states, its actions will lay the foundation to claim that littoral states have acquiesced and accepted China's territorial claim.
By dispatching its own fishing fleet to one zone (the Spratlys) while forbidding others to fish in another (the Paracels), "China considers the case regarding the Paracels with Vietnam 'closed'," said Mark Valencia, a Hawaii-based expert on the dispute.