China "Hits" then "Calls for Help"


17 January 2008

On 15 January 2008, about 80 miles offshore of Vietnam, a Vietnamese fishing boat belonging to fishermen from Phu Yen Province was sunken due to collision with another vessel, which the Vietnamese government controlled press only reported as a "strange" boat. The boat PY 91234-TS with its 10 fishermen have gone down, and all ten are feared to have died. The incident took place in the vicinity of the disputed Spratly islands.

While the Vietnamese news agencies only used to word "strange" to refer to the boat that caused the Vietnamese fishing boat to go down, for the Vietnamese public, it is almost an automatic code word that refers to Chinese navy boat. However, for complicated international political reasons, straight forward mention of the perpetrator is still often not done by the Vietnamese official press. Nonetheless, while the news agencies inside Vietnam has not made the direct identification, other sources have confirmed that the boat responsible for the collision was a Chinese boat.

Vietnamese fishermen meeting calamity at the hand of the Chinese navy boats in the disputed waters of the South China Sea has become a regular affair. Incidents that occur range from fishing boats and its occupants being chased, captured, and sunken to being shot at and killed by the Chinese navy patrol boats.

While Vietnamese people have not gotten over the lastest shock with fellow fishermen, they have become even more alarmed when today, China itself has accused Vietnamese bandits in the Gulf of Tonkin of robbing Chinese fishing boats on 7 January 2008.

According to the People's Daily website, up to 10 Chinese boats fishing in international waters in the Gulf of Tonkin were attacked by more than 10 armed Vietnamese fishing boats early on the morning of January 7. The Chinese newspaper reports that while there were no fatalities, Chinese boats were struck by bullets and the Vietnamese robbers made off with their fishing equipments.

After the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu requested that Vietnam seriously look into the matter, initial investigations show that the story told by the Chinese side is not consistent with what has been discovered by the Vietnamese government.

According to the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Le Dung, there was no such thing as armed Vietnamese boats attacking Chinese fishermen. In the process of fishing on the sea, the fishing nets of 4 Chinese boats became entangled with those of 3 Vietnamese boats. After they managed to separate the nets, both sides went back to their business of fishing. According to VTV News broadcast, the Vietnamese government will continue to look into the matter and has asked the Chinese government to provide more evidence for its accusations.

The Chinese government describing Vietnamese fishermen as "pirates" and "robbers" is nothing new. This is essentially the single reason justifying the various incidents in which the Chinese boats hunted down Vietnamese fishermen causing tension to increase between the two neighbors. The bloodiest recent Chinese shooting of Vietnamese fishermen took place on the Gulf of Tonkin on January 8, 2005 when 9 were killed, and eight more were injured.
Many Vietnamese are outraged that the Chinese government attempted to deflect attention from the 15 January incident by making up and exaggerating things that never took place in the Gulf of Tonkin on 7 January. Many ask why is it that the Chinese government took ten days to come out with official statements about the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and only 2 days after the sinking of the Vietnamese boat near Spratly. If the situation were indeed serious, then why did China not issue a statement sooner?
The fact that China seems to be conjuring up incidents in order to make VIetnamese fishermen turn into the bad guys before the world, when China itself is doing the attacking and killing of innocent fishermen are making Vietnamese people outraged. Many wonder if this is part of China's ongoing plot to fulfill its hegemonic ambitions in the South China Sea, and are waiting for more actions from this expanding super power after the Olympics in Beijing this year is over with.


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