TENSIONS in the South China Sea have flared with Vietnam’s government claiming that one of their boats was rammed and sunk by a Chinese vessel in disputed waters.
The fishing boat was around 370 kilometres off Da Nang in the Paracel island chain on Wednesday when it was hit by a Chinese vessel, Vietnamese officials said.
All five Vietnamese men on board the fishing boat clung on to the sinking bow until they were rescued, the statement said.
Vietnam’s government and state media have previously accused Chinese vessels of attacking Vietnamese fishing boats.
In April and May, more than 10 Vietnamese fishing boats were allegedly hit and robbed while fishing in the South China Sea, according to Vietnam’s Tuoi Tre newspaper.
China claims almost all of the South China Sea, including waters internationally recognised as Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone where Vietnam has sole fishing rights.
Greg Poling, a fellow with the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, slammed China over the incident.
‘VIOLENCE AND INTIMIDATION’
“A Chinese ship reportedly rams and sinks a Vietnamese fishing boat in the Paracels (again),” he said on Twitter.
“China’s neighbours have become so numb to the constant exercise of low-intensity violence and intimidation that it will warrant barely a mention in regional press.”
It comes weeks after a US senator claimed that China is “preparing for World War III” with its ominous South China Sea military build-up.
Warships from the two countries have been engaged in tense stand-offs which have threatened to escalate into conflict in the disputed seas.
China lays claim to vast swathes of ocean and many islands – but some parts are also claimed by the likes of Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan.
The fresh concerns were raised by Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma during a Senate hearing discussing the new challenges presented by Russia and China in January.
“It’s like you’re preparing for World War III,” Inhofe said. “You’re talking to our allies over there and you wonder whose side they’re going to be on.”
He said he was “concerned” that the message was not coming across, after China used a media blitz to present a host of illegal, artificial islands as “search and rescue centres”.
Inhofe believes the US sat back and watched as China staked its claim on the contested reefs and rocks, and did nothing as it turned them into artificial islands bristling with weapons and fortifications.
Early last year, Chinese state media circulated images of the completed 2.8km square island fortress for the first time after the completion of its land-reclamation and construction works.
The reef is disputed territory, also being claimed by the Philippines.
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“The centre will offer better support to maritime rescue operations in the southern part of the South China Sea,” Xinhua quotes the ministry as saying.
Completed last year, the island now holds more than 100 buildings and is the third largest of China’s artificial island fortresses.
Beijing has offered no explanation for the presence of numerous fortifications, gun and missile emplacements, hardened aircraft hangars and a military grade runway and port.
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