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Chinese fleet gang-up sinks Viet boat

Publication Date : 30-05-2014


The standoff between China and Vietnam over a Chinese oil rig parked starting May 1 in disputed waters in the South China Sea took a violent turn on Tuesday when an armada of 40 Chinese fishing boats clashed with a smaller Vietnamese flotilla. In the lopsided encounter, a Vietnamese boat was rammed and subsequently sank, throwing 10 fisherman overboard. The fishermen were rescued by other Vietnamese boats, and there were no injuries.

But the ramming escalated the tensions over the deployment of the Chinese oil rig inside what Vietnam claims as its exclusive economic zone. Vietnam has been accusing China of ramming into or firing water cannon at Vietnamese vessels trying to get close to the rig, which is surrounded by Chinese fishing vessels and Coast Guard ships. The latest incident was the first time a Vietnamese boat had been sunk.

Each country accused the other as the aggressor. A report aired over Vietnam’s state-run television network claimed that the latest incident took place at about 31.5 kilometers southwest of the oil rig. Hanoi accused a Chinese vessel of ramming the wooden Vietnamese boat on Monday then fleeing the scene.

“I call this an act of attempted murder because the Chinese sank a Vietnamese fishing boat and then ran away,” said Tran Van Linh, president of the fisheries association in the Vietnamese port city of Danang. “We vehemently protest this perverse, brutal and inhuman action by the Chinese side.” The Associated Press quoted Linh as saying that about 40 steel vessels surrounded a group of smaller wooden Vietnamese fishing vessels on Monday afternoon, then one rammed into the Vietnamese boat.

On the other hand, China’s state-run news agency Xinhua called Vietnam the aggressor, saying that the Vietnamese fishing boat capsized when it rammed a Chinese vessel from the Chinese province of Hainan. China has also accused Vietnam of interfering with and attempting to disrupt the operations of the oil rig, which was set up by the state-run China National Offshore Oil Co.

In Beijing the Chinese foreign ministry said a Vietnamese boat had forced its way into the area around the rig and rammed into a Chinese ship. “I think the fact that this incident happened at all shows that Vietnam’s illegitimate and illegal harassment and sabotage of China’s regular operations are futile and will only hurt their interests,” the foreign ministry spokesperson said.

The latest encounter had the appearance of a schoolyard bullying spree, familiar to most, in which a pack of  bullies pummel and kick around a weaker schoolmate until he crumples to the ground, to the jeers of his tormentors. Vietnam has been accusing China of similar behavior, in the process damaging several boats and injuring a number of surveillance officials. But China accuses Vietnam of doing the same.

The Chinese ship that rammed the Vietnamese boat had a steel hull, according to Vietnamese officials. As many as 80 ships of China, including some from its Coast Guard, now patrol around the oil rig, creating a wide perimeter. Warships from both countries, including five Chinese frigates, have been observed from the outside perimeter, according to US officials.

The occurrence of these encounters, especially the sinking of the Vietnamese fishing boat, has alarmed Adm. Samuel Locklear, the US military commander in the Pacific. Speaking on the last day (May 23) of the World Economic Forum on East Asia held in Manila, he warned that the risk of miscalculation that could trigger a wider conflict in a tense territorial standoff between Vietnam and China was high, and urged the two countries to exercise restraint.

Locklear said he had “serious concerns” about the three-week standoff between Vietnam and China near the disputed Paracel Islands, and called on them to resolve conflicts on the basis of international law. He also called for compromise in Asia’s worsening maritime territorial disputes.

While the dispute between China and Vietnam was simmered over the oil rig, tension was escalated between Japan and China last week as they traded accusations over the close encounters of their military aircraft in the East China Sea. The Wall Street Journal reported that each side accused the other of acting provocatively in two encounters, during one of which the aircraft were just 30 meters apart, according to the Japanese side.

Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said last Sunday that the first encounter happened at about 11am Saturday between a Chinese Su-27 fighter plane and a Japanese OP-3C surveillance plane, with the two planes 50 meters apart, according to the WSJ. An hour later, a Chinese Su-27 approached within 30 meters of a Japanese Air Force YS-11EB.

Both encounters took place over international waters in an area where the two countries have established overlapping air-defence zones, Onodera said. He accused Beijing of acting in a “bizarre” fashion, saying: “We think such behavior is very dangerous and could lead to an accident.”

China’s defence ministry confirmed on Sunday that it scrambled military jets on Saturday morning, and said Tokyo was to blame for operating near joint military exercises that China was holding with Russia.


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