Unlike PH, Vietnam defends its fishermen vs China

MANILA, Philippines – Facing off with an Asian giant, Vietnam slammed China for "hindering" Vietnamese fishermen in the South China Sea, and demanded compensation for fishing boats driven away by Chinese vessels. 

This is in sharp contrast to President Rodrigo Duterte's dismissive reaction to the sinking of a Filipino boat by a Chinese ship in the West Philippine Sea. (READ: TIMELINE: Sinking of Filipino boat in West PH Sea by Chinese ship)

The West Philippine Sea is part of the South China Sea that belongs to the Philippines based on a 2016 international ruling. Vietnam's recent protest against China involves Vietnamese fishermen in the Paracel Islands, which is not part of the Philippines' claim.

Vietnam protested Chinese vessels that drive away Vietnamese fishing boats and confiscate "properties and fishing equipment from Vietnamese fishermen" in the Paracels, according to the Vietnamese state-run VNExpress.

"Vietnam strongly opposes these actions and requests that China take strict action against the Chinese vessels, properly compensate the Vietnamese fishermen, and educate Chinese crew members to refrain from repeating such acts in the future," Vietnamese foreign ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said in a press conference Thursday, June 20.

Hang said the Chinese vessels' actions "violate Vietnam's sovereignty over the Paracels and its legitimate rights and interests in its waters."

She said it also violates international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), according to VNExpress.

Vietnam lodged this protest after a Vietnamese boat was harassed by a Chinese vessel on June 2. 

The Chinese vessel allegedly "issued death threats against them," boarded their boat, and "took away two tons of squid worth more than VND 250 million ($10,706), VNExpress reported.

The state-run news outlet also recalled that in March, a Chinese ship "rammed and sank a Vietnamese fishing boat" while it was fishing off the Paracels.

Vietnam then "handed over a diplomatic note to representatives from the Chinese embassy in Hanoi to protest the Chinese vessel's action and demanded due compensation for Vietnamese fishermen," said VNExpress.

Philippines on Gem-Ver

The Philippine government, on the other hand, continues to downplay the sinking of Filipino fishing boat Gem-Ver by a Chinese ship in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

While the Philippines said it filed a diplomatic note over the incident, it refuses to summon Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua because it wants to investigate the matter first.

Duterte on Monday, June 17, dismissed the boat sinking in Recto Bank as a "maritime incident," a claim now echoed by officials such as Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

Vietnam itself is a victim of Chinese vessels ramming their fishing boats, but the Southeast Asian country, unlike the Philippines under Duterte, is known to strongly condemn these incidents. (READ: Q and A: 'Brave, patriotic' Vietnam challenges China)

One of these ramming incidents happened on May 26, 2014, when a large Chinese ship chased and rammed a Vietnamese fishing boat near an oil rig close to the Paracels. Vietnam condemned this "inhuman act."

Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio warned that China might drive away more Filipino vessels in the West Philippine Sea, as it does with Vietnam.

Carpio said the Recto Bank incident "may signal the start of a new 'gray zone' offensive by China to drive away Filipino fishing vessels in the West Philippine Sea, in the same way that China is driving away Vietnamese fishing vessels in the Paracels."

"The Filipino people must send a strong signal to China that any new 'gray zone' offensive of ramming Filipino fishing vessels in the West Philippine Sea will mean a break of diplomatic ties with China," Carpio said.

It was a Vietnamese fishing boat that rescued the 22 Filipino fishermen of Gem-Ver after a Chinese ship sank their vessel on June 9. (READ: INSIDE STORY: How Filipino crew were saved by Vietnamese in West PH Sea)

"Vietnam believes that ships, including fishing vessels, have the responsibility to humanely treat and support fishermen in distress at sea in accordance with international laws, especially the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the tenets of the International Maritime Organization (IMO)," Hang said.

"The Vietnamese fishing vessel has performed its international duty at sea as per UNCLOS provisions and that of the IMO, of which Vietnam is a member," the Vietnamese foreign ministry spokesperson also said.  Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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