A threat issued this week by China to jail foreign fishermen who enter disputed areas of the South China Sea prompted the head of an influential Vietnamese fishing organization on Thursday to dismiss the move and assert that fishermen will continue to work in those waters, with his country taking measures against China if necessary.
“Vietnamese fishermen will continue fishing in the area as usual,” said Phan Huy Hoang, chairman of Quang Ngai Province Fishery Association. “If China should take any action [against the fishermen], the government of Vietnam will apply measures to deal with it.”
“This statement is just like other statements they [the Chinese] have made in the past to ban any fishing activities in the South China Sea within a certain area and time period,” he said. “Those statements that ban fishing activities within their nine-dash line are illegitimate, and nobody should acknowledge them.”
China’s Supreme Court said on Tuesday that the country will protect its territorial sovereignty and navigation interests within a nine-dash demarcation line that Beijing uses to claim 90 percent of the South China Sea, and jail those caught illegally fishing in its waters for up to one year.
“We already have had difficulties [fishing in the South China Sea], and I can see that we will have more difficulties,” Hoang said. “We assert our legitimate right to places where we have economic activities.”
“The international community does not accept China’s statements, so I think this should not affect the activities of Vietnamese fishermen in general and Quang Ngai fishermen in particular in their traditional fishing grounds in the South China Sea,” he said.
On July 12, an international arbitration tribunal decided in a case brought by the Philippines that China has no right to resources within the nine-dash demarcation line.
It also ruled that the nation cannot claim a 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone around reefs and atolls in the Spratly and Paracel Islands, which Vietnam and other countries claim as part of their own territory and from which Chinese forces have attacked and chased away Vietnamese fishing boats over the last few years.
The Spratly and Paracel Islands, which Vietnam calls Truong Sa and Hoang Sa, respectively, are located amid strategic shipping lanes and abundant fishing grounds, and may contain oil and natural gas reserves under the seabed.
Vietnam welcomed the court’s decision and has continued to assert its sovereignty over the islands. China, however, dismissed the ruling, which invalidated nearly all of Beijing’s claims of exclusive access to the waters.
China must comply
Responding to the Chinese Supreme Court’s announcement, Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh said on Thursday that China must comply with international law regarding the treatment of fishermen in the disputed region of what Vietnam calls the East Sea.
“The treatment of fishermen working in the East Sea must comply with international law and agreements reached between countries, and take on a humanitarian spirit,” he said during a regular news conference in Hanoi, the state-owned Vietnam News Agency reported.
“Vietnam reserves the necessary measures for protecting its fishermen’s legitimate interests in line with international law and practice,” he said.
He also responded to a call by China’s defense minister for the army, police, and people to prepare for a war at sea by saying that disputes concerning the South China Sea must be resolved peacefully.
“Disputes in the waters must be resolved peacefully on the basis of international law, and without use of or threat to use force,” he was quotes as saying.
China has been aggressively grabbing disputed land masses and building artificial islands in the South China Sea and outfitting them with runways and military infrastructure—moves that have threatened peace and stability in the region, a Vietnamese government spokesman said earlier this year.