Vietnamese fishermen are moving to defy a Chinese ban on fishing in disputed waters in the South China Sea, according to a fisherman Wednesday, as Hanoi labeled Beijing’s decision as illegal.
Le Lon, a fisherman from Vietnam’s Quang Ngai province who was previously detained by Chinese authorities in the South China Sea, said that his son and a group of other fishermen had set sail toward the disputed Paracel Islands in a bid to challenge the ban.
“Whatever orders the Chinese government wants to give, they can go ahead, but we are not scared of them,” he said, adding that all the fishermen in the area were aware of the ban.
China, which has competing claims with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan for territories in the South China Sea, has imposed the ban annually since 1999, but this year the ban comes amid escalating tensions with Hanoi.
Hanoi protested the seasonal ban, which runs from May 16 to August 1.
“Vietnam opposes this unilateral decision by China and views it as an invalid one,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi said in a statement posted online Tuesday.
Le Lon was among a group of 20 Vietnamese fishermen detained by Chinese authorities in February while diving for sea cucumbers near the Paracel Islands, in an incident that provoked a diplomatic row between Hanoi and Beijing.
Hanoi had demanded the “unconditional release” of the fishing boats and crew, saying they were detained in Vietnamese waters, but Beijing defended the detentions as lawful, adding that it has “indisputable sovereignty” over the islands and their adjacent waters.
Le Lon and the others were released in April, after enduring beatings and grueling conditions, he said.
But he and other fishermen are not afraid of further detentions, Le Lon said.
“Every year the Chinese government bans fishing there. However, we have to do our work and make a living. We are not scared off because of the ban,” he said.
Carl Thayer, a Vietnam scholar at the University of New South Wales, said it was unclear whether China would detain more Vietnamese fishermen in the South China Sea this year.
“A year ago, China stopped being aggressive and merely turned the Vietnamese boats back, but before that it chased them, rammed them, and sunk some. Some people died. It boarded the ships it seized, and seized global positioning systems.”
This year, “It all depends on how China wants to enforce it,” he said.
China’s South China Fishery Administration Bureau said Wednesday it was prepared to enforce the ban and that fishing vessels that violate the rules may have their catches and boats confiscated, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
The agency said fishing in the banned waters would be seen as “blatant encroachment on China’s fishery resources.”
China has also been embroiled in a dispute with the Philippines, with whom it has been in the middle of a month-long territorial spat.
On Wednesday, the Philippines announced its own fishing ban in waters near Scarborough Shoal.
Reported by Viet Ha for RFA’s Vietnamese service. Translated by Khanh Nguyen. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.