South China Sea territories tension continues
One of the 21 Vietnamese detained for nearly two months for fishing in disputed waters near the Paracel Islands alleged he was tortured while detained by Chinese authorities.
The 21 fishermen were released on April 20 after being held in custody for 49 days. One alleged that Chinese Coast Guard officials repeatedly beat him and his colleagues and denied them proper meals.
“They beat us after the arrest. They took us to an island and gave us only two bowls of rice each, some vegetables and very little water a day,” Le Lon, 46, said in published reports.
“All of us were lodged in a very small room, about 40 square meters in size, and were made to sleep on the cement floor without mats,” he said.
Lon added that only one of the two fishing boats detained along with the crew had been returned.
However, Lon said despite the seven weeks spent in captivity, he and his colleagues wouldn’t think twice before going back to sea again.
“We’ll go to sea whenever we have a ship. Scared or not, we have to go because our lives are now too miserable,” Lon, told Radio Free Asia citing big losses the fishermen and their families have suffered as a result of their detention.
Lon said Chinese authorities confiscated sea cucumbers and equipment valued at nearly 500 million Vietnamese dong [$24,000].
Saying the fishermen were detained in Vietnamese waters, Vietnam had demanded the “unconditional release” of the two boats and the crew. However, China said the detentions were legal as it has “indisputable sovereignty” over the Paracel Islands and its adjacent waters.
Le Vinh, the owner of the boat that was returned, said this was the third time Chinese authorities had held his vessel, adding he had paid fines to recover the boat previously.
“In 2003 and 2009 [we] paid fines to take back the ships, but not this time. We were decisive in not paying fines,” he was quoted as saying by Radio Free Asia.
“The Vietnamese government is resolute that the Paracels belong to Vietnam, so we are determined not to pay fines anymore, and we will have the [ruling Vietnamese Communist] Party and the State get involved and solve [the issue].”
The incident was the latest in a string of diplomatic rows in the South China Sea, which is believed to carry large deposits of oil and gas, involving China, Vietnam and a host of other regional countries.
China claims of “indisputable sovereignty” over the South China Sea stretches back to the 1930s, when official maps from Beijing contained the whole sea as Chinese territory.
China and South Vietnam once controlled different parts of the Paracels, but after a brief conflict in 1974 Beijing snatched control of the entire group of islands.
Last year, a wave of anti-China protests were held in Hanoi following a standoff between the two countries over detained Vietnamese fishermen.
Earlier this year, Hanoi accused Beijing of violating Vietnam’s sovereignty by allowing a Chinese oil company to bid for oil exploration near the Paracels.
China has paid no heed to calls by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations [ASEAN] members for a solution to the maritime dispute by a UN tribunal set up by the Convention on the Law of the Sea, the global legislation for all maritime territorial disputes.
Vietnamese vessels forced out of Taiwan waters
Taiwan’s Coast Guard Administration [CGA] on April 20 said Vietnamese patrol ships “intruded into Taiwan-controlled waters” in the South China Sea twice last month and were “forced to leave” on both occasions.
The CGA said the Vietnamese ships were found in restricted waters near Taiping Island, the largest in the Spratly archipelago, on March 22 and March 26.
Two Vietnamese patrol ships were intercepted by the Coast Guard’s M8 speedboats on March 22 and asked to leave the territory and on March 26, two other Vietnamese vessels that had entered the waters near the island left after discovering they were being monitored by the coast guard’s radar, the CGA said in a statement.
The statement from the CGA came in response to a report in the Chinese-language China Times Weekly which quoted unnamed sources as saying the incident was the first direct military confrontation between Vietnam and Taiwan, which is claimed by China.
The report claimed the Chinese government blocked the news to avoid escalating the already heated bilateral dispute.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it had lodged a protest with Hanoi immediately after the March 22 confrontation.
Vietnam has yet to make an official statement on the issue.
Taiwan, mainland China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines claim total or partial sovereignty over the South China Sea.
The CGA said nearly 100 Coast Guard personnel stationed in Taiping Island have been put on high alert and ordered to monitor all foreign vessels near the island’s waters.