Tensions Rise as Vietnamese Boat Sinks in Disputed Seas

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HANOI – In a sign that tensions with China may continue to rise, Vietnam has claimed that one of its fishing boats was sunk by a Chinese vessel. The 10 fishermen on board the vessel were rescued by other Vietnamese ships in the area and there were no reported injuries, according to an official government statement posted online.

The incident occurred on Monday at 4 pm (Vietnam time) at a site 31 kilometers from where China’s controversial Haiyang Shiyou-981 oil rig is currently located. The rig is in a traditional Vietnamese fishing ground in an area the country claims as within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

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In response to Vietnamese claims surrounding the recent incident, China’s official Xinhua news agency said that the Vietnamese boat capsized after harassing and colliding with a Chinese fishing boat in the South China Sea.

Earlier this month, bilateral ties fell to their lowest point in decades after China installed a massive oil rig in disputed territory.  Chinese and Vietnamese ships soon began a series of aggressive maneuvers which resulted in a number of collisions near the Paracel Islands. Vietnamese authorities have released video footage of several of these incidents, and China continues to accuse Vietnam of being the aggressor.

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The two countries have long quarreled over who owns these oil and gas-rich waters, and incidents between fishing crews have become increasingly common.

The unrest at sea has also sparked anti-China protests and riots within Vietnam – foreign factories were attacked, looted and several were set on fire in the recent unrest.

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Beijing and Hanoi had previously promised to resolve these disputes and lower tensions through diplomatic channels, but last week the two adversaries again clashed heads after the Foreign Ministry of Vietnam, during a press conference last Friday, presented historical and legal documents claiming Vietnamese sovereignty over the disputed waters.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, Qin Gang, responded to this by criticizing the speech and firmly declaring China’s “indisputable” ownership of the Paracels.

Meanwhile, China Oilfield Services announced that the Haiyang Shiyou-981 completed its first stage of drilling operations on Tuesday. China Oilfield Services is majority-owned by state oil giant China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), and the oil rig has now moved to another site to begin the second stage of drilling operations that are expected to last until mid-August.

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