Vietnam has protested and dismissed China’s annual ban on fishing ban in the East Sea, the Vietnamese name for the South China Sea, for the next two-and-a-half months.
Environmental activists hit makeshift Chinese flags with water guns during a protest in front of the Chinese Embassy in Makati City, Metro Manila May 11, 2015. They demanded that Chinese authorities immediately put a stop to the ecological destruction caused by the ongoing reclamation activities of China in the South China Sea. Photo: Reuters
Le Hai Binh, spokesman for the Vietnamese foreign affairs ministry, said in a statement late Saturday that the ban violates Vietnam's sovereignty over Hoang Sa (Paracel) archipelago, its sovereign rights, and jurisdiction over its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
“Vietnam dismissed the ban as null and void,” Binh said.
The municipal administration of Haikou in Hainan, China’s southernmost province, on Saturday clamped the annual ban in northern part of the East Sea. The affected area, stretching to the waters between Guangdong and Fujian provinces, would entail the Paracels island chain, which China took from Vietnam by force in 1974 and the Scarborough Shoal, a disputed reef in the Spratly Islands China has seized control since 2012, and the Gulf of Tonkin.
The ban, which was introduced in 1999 and will last until August 1, applies to both Chinese and foreign boats fishing in the area. China has said the ban is aimed at protecting marine resources and promoting environmental awareness among fishermen.
“They've declared unilateral fishing bans for the past few years, as maritime policing and fisheries/environmental enforcement are clear manifestations of sovereignty and effective control, without a show of force,” said Zachary Abuza, a US-based analyst.
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.
“China considers the case regarding the Paracels with Vietnam ‘closed’,” said Mark Valencia, a Hawaii-based analyst.
On Sunday, China's Defence Minister Chang Wanquan told his Vietnamese counterpart Phung Quang Thanh that both countries have "the wisdom and capability to achieve success in tackling maritime issues", Reuters said, citing the state-run China Daily newspaper. The meeting, the first between the two countries' defence ministers, took place in China's southwestern Yunnan province.
The annual fishing ban comes after recent satellite images show China made rapid progress in building an airstrip suitable for military use in the Spratly Islands and may be planning another. Satellite photos released earlier last month provided fresh evidence of the scale of the Chinese program by depicting a flotilla of vessels dredging sand onto Mischief Reef.
China routinely outlines the scope of its territorial claims through maps featuring a “nine-dash line” that encircles about 90 percent of the 3.5-million-square-kilometer resource-rich sea. The maps flew in the face of competing claims from four members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) -- Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei—and drew international condemnation.