Apr 06, 2020 / 21:20

US ‘seriously concerned’ by China’s sinking of Vietnamese fishing boat in South China Sea

The US State Department spokesperson called on China to stop exploiting the distraction or vulnerability of other states to expand its unlawful claims in the South China Sea

The US Department of State has expressed its “serious concern” about reports of China’s sinking of a Vietnamese fishing vessel in the vicinity of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.

 Three Chinese maritime surveillance vessels that harrassed Vietnamese fishing boats. Photo provided by fishermen, poted by Thanh Nien newspaper

This incident is the latest in a long string of Chinese actions to assert unlawful maritime claims and disadvantage its Southeast Asian neighbors in the South China Sea, Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.

Paracel Islands are known as Hoang Sa Islands in Vietnam that were occupied by China in an invasion in 1974.

Ortagus added that since the outbreak of the global pandemic, Beijing has also announced new “research stations” on military bases it built on Fiery Cross Reef and Subi Reef, and landed special military aircraft on Fiery Cross Reef.  

China has also continued to deploy maritime militia around the Spratly Islands. China’s nine-dashed line was deemed an unlawful maritime claim by an arbitral tribunal convened under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention in July 2016, a position shared by the US government.

“We call on the PRC to remain focused on supporting international efforts to combat the global pandemic, and to stop exploiting the distraction or vulnerability of other states to expand its unlawful claims in the South China Sea,” stated the spokesperson.

 The Vietnamese fishing boat sinks after being rammed by Chinese vessels. Photo: Thanh Nien newspaper

According to the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a Vietnamese fishing boat capsized after being rammed by a Chinese maritime surveillance vessel near Hoang Sa (Paracel) islands on April 2 morning while the fishing boat was operating within Vietnamese waters. Eight Vietnamese fishermen were captured and detained on a nearby island in Hoang Sa.

The fishermen were transferred to two other Vietnamese fishing vessels operating nearby and returned to their home province of Quang Ngai on April 4.

After this incident, Vietnam’s foreign ministry lodged an official protest with China. “The Chinese vessel committed an act that violated Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Hoang Sa archipelago and threatened the lives and damaged the property and legitimate interests of Vietnamese fishermen,” the foreign ministry said in its statement.