Chinese thuggery unabated in East Sea

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One week after China perversely announced it was resuming illegal fishing patrols of the East Sea, three Vietnamese fishing boats were seized by Chinese ships in violation of Vietnam's sea border on May 4 .

On May 10, the Vietnam Fisheries Association asked the government and relevant agencies to demand that China release 12 fishermen from the central Quang Ngai Province detained by Chinese ships in breach of international law six days earlier. Two other groups of Quang Ngai fishermen that had been detained on May 4 were released a day later.

The Quang Ngai People's Committee, the provincial government, requested on May 7 that Vietnam's Ministry of Foreign Affairs take action against the illegal detainment of the fishermen by Chinese ships. All the seized boats had been fishing in Vietnamese waters near the Hoang Sa (Paracel) Archipelago.

Truong Ngoc Nhi, the committee's vice chairman, also asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to demand the unconditional release of the fishermen, their boats and equipment.

The Chinese patrol ships, which operate under China's Administration of Fishery and Fishing Harbor Supervision for [East Sea] under the Ministry of Agriculture, have illegally seized six Vietnamese fishing boats this year and have released only three so far. All the Vietnamese boats were fishing in Vietnamese waters.

All but the 12 Vietnamese fishermen currently languishing in a Chinese jail have been released.

On May 6, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga said Vietnam opposed China's recent ban on fishing in certain waters of the East Sea, including those currently part of Vietnam's national territory.

Nga said the ban, which was issued on April 29 and would take effect from May 16 to August 1, violates Vietnam's sovereignty over the Hoang Sa Archipelago, and of other areas under its jurisdiction and "thus it is null and void."

According to the China Daily, China has been issuing annual May August "bans" that include Vietnamese territorial waters since 2004.

Held for ransom

The twelve Quang Ngai fishermen kidnapped on May 4 while fishing in waters off the Hoang Sa Archipelago are also now being held for a ransom of 70,000 yuan (US$10,250).

Their fishing boat was seized at around 5 a.m., Nguyen Phuong Nam, a coast guard on duty at Ganh Ca Village, Quang Ngai Province, quoted the boat's captain Dang Tam as saying.

Tam, 35, also the boat's owner, had called the guard post to inform them of the illegal capture.

The Chinese boat has demanded 70,000 yuan in ransom and the crew have been imprisoned at an illegal Chinese detention center on the archipelago's Phu Lam Island.

At the end of April, China released 23 Vietnamese fishermen who were also captured on two boats around the Hoang Sa Archipelago over the past two months. Property worth nearly VND500 million (US$26,371) was confiscated.

The boats were also asked to pay a ransom of 70,000 yuan each, but then were freed after Vietnamese agencies stepped in, VietnamNet news website reported, noting that the fishermen were beaten and starved during their capture.

Incursions continue

On May 7, Quang Ngai Border Guards said they had received reports from local fishermen of several Chinese boats fishing in Vietnamese waters.

Le Hon and Nguyen Ly's boats were on the way home to Ly Son Island from the Hoang Sa Archipelago when they saw the Chinese boats fishing at latitude 16 degrees North and longitude 110 degrees East, Phap Luat Thanh Pho Ho Chi Minh (Ho Chi Minh City Law) newspaper reported May 8.

On May 6, a radar station on Ly Son Island also detected several fishing boats only 40 nautical miles northeast of the island, the paper said. A reconnaissance team then confirmed that the boats were Chinese after attempt to communicate with them were met with no response. The paper did not say how the border guards dealt with the issue.

This is not the first time Chinese fishing boats have violated Vietnamese waters. They have been chased off by Vietnamese border guards and released only with warnings several times over the last few years.

Humane response

The temperate measures by Vietnamese authorities are quite different to those of Chinese ships that have been seizing Vietnam's boats in her own waters.

Vietnam recently approved a US$8.6-billion plan to boost island economies and enforce national defense at sea. The plan will increase the number of border guard units, marine police and will beef up equipment for patrols and rescue missions.

In the latest drama on the high-seas, a Vietnamese naval ship that was on its way to visit soldiers on the Truong Sa (Spratly) Archipelago saved nine foreigners from a lifebuoy on May 3 after their ship was attacked by pirates. The navy vessel transferred them to another boat that then took them safely to land.

The foreigners - six Indonesians, two Malaysians and a captain from Myanmar - were crew members on Malaysian tug boat Atlantic 3, which was heading to Thailand. Captain Myint Shwe said they were attacked on the night of April 27 with knives and handguns in the waters between Malaysia and the Philippines. The pirates took all their valuables including food and kept them until the night of May 2 when they pushed them onto the life buoy, he said.

Use of military force improbable in East Sea disputes: official

Lieutenant-colonel Nguyen Chi Vinh, Deputy Minister of Defense has rejected notions that East Sea disputes could eventually deteriorate into military conflicts.

Asked whether he could foresee any use of military force by any nations involved in the disputes, he said: "I don't think so."

"Because no country could benefit by using military force on the East Sea," he told the media on the sidelines of the 4th ASEAN (Association of South-east Asian Nations) Defense Ministers Meeting (ADMM-4) in Hanoi on May 11.

"Solving East Sea problems with peaceful solutions is not a form of goodwill but the inevitable practical demand of all of countries involved," he said.

He also said the East Sea problem was a major concern of the ASEAN grouping even though it was not discussed at the ADMM-4.

"It doesn't mean that ADMM is not concerned over the East Sea problem but there are different forums and each deals with an issue of the ASEAN community," he said.

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