The South China Sea has been a topic of debate within the international community for months now, with Vietnam and China struggling to come to a consensus regarding sovereignty. Both countries claim sovereignty over the Paracel Islands and when the China National Offshore Oil Corporation placed its first oilrig just 130 nautical miles off of the Vietnamese coast in the beginning of May, tensions rose between the two governments.
However, this is far beyond a political and legal dispute. In the midst of this conflict, fishermen who use this sea area as their usual fishing grounds are struggling to get by. For example, the Chinese authorities instituted a ban from April to August, which marks the “high season” for Vietnamese fishermen, who refer to this area as the “East Sea.”
Since there is no regional authority in this particular sea area, Professor Erik Franckx, a sea law expert, noted that the Chinese have a right to impose a ban on Chinese fishermen, but not fishermen from other countries.
Although there is often conflict in the South China Sea between Vietnamese and Chinese fishermen, many fishermen have reported to the press that if there is any technical trouble or a boat is in any danger, they help each other. It is healthy competition. However, with the new political conflict between the governments, tensions are rising at sea.
For example, there have been cases of Vietnamese fishing boats being hit by Chinese fishermen. Huynh Thi Nhu Hoa, the owner of a fishing company reported that their boat was hit by a Chinese vessel and sank about 16 nautical miles from the oilrig. This caused all of the fishermen on the boat to lose their jobs in the meantime.
The ban that China has placed is seriously affecting the Vietnamese fishing industry as noted by Tran Van Linh, the chairman of Da Nag’s Fishery Association. He explained that “the oil rig is seriously affecting [their] fishing industry because its placement denies [their] fishermen access to” the area surrounding the Paracel Islands where the catch is much more plentiful.
Apart from the difficulties Vietnamese fishermen face with the ban, boats have also been confiscated. The Da Nang Fishery Association also lost 15 boats due to confiscation by the Chinese authorities in the last year.
Although efforts have been made between the governments, there are no signs of near future progress. The talk held on June 18 between Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi and Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh proved unsuccessful, demonstrating the strong stance both countries are taking on the matter.
Matters only seem to worsen, as in early July Chinese authorities arrested six Vietnamese fishermen caught in “Chinese waters.” Occurrences such as these have caused violent protests in Vietnam, as citizens are worried about the condition of their fishing industry. Recent protests have left at least two dead and numerous factories burnt to the ground.
As the situation progresses, other nearby countries are getting involved as well. The Philippines is outraged at the situation and has taken measures to take China to a United Nations tribunal.
Although political resolutions are vital, it is clear due to recent occurrences that progress is imperative for the sake of the safety and prosperity of Vietnamese fishermen who require access to the South China or the East Sea.
– Cambria Arvizo