BEIJING — Vietnam on Monday accused a Chinese fishing boat of ramming and sinking a Vietnamese vessel not far from where the two countries have clashed over a Chinese oil rig in the South China Sea.
Xinhua, China’s official news agency, said the Vietnamese boat capsized “after harassing and colliding with a Chinese fishing boat.”
The sinking marks a serious escalation in the conflict between the two countries, which earlier this month triggered deadly anti-China riots in Vietnam and threats of reprisals from Beijing.
The incident occurred about 17 nautical miles southwest from where the Chinese have been installing an oil rig, according to Vietnam’s Tuoi Tre News. According to the report, some 40 Chinese fishing boats had surrounded several Vietnamese vessels, when one the one of the Chinese boats rammed and sank a Vietnamese boat with 10 crew aboard.
Quoting the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry, Tuoi Tre reported that all crew members were rescued by other Vietnamese boats in the area. All of the Vietnamese boats were from the central city of Da Nang.
According to Voice of America’s Vietnamese service, Vietnam has reported that China wounded four of its fisheries surveillance officers by firing water canons at them.
The deputy head of the Vietnam Fisheries Surveillance Department, Ha Le, said that almost all of Vietnam’s vessels have been damaged by attacks from China’s vessels.
“We are now fighting by peaceful means, by propagandizing against China’s illegal invasion. In addition, we try to avoid any intentional clashes with Chinese vessels to minimize damages and casualties on our end,” the VOA quoted Ha Le as saying.
Crowds in Vietnam started protesting and rioting after it was reported two weeks ago that China was moving an oil drilling platform, the Haiyang Shiyou 981, into contested waters in the South China Sea, about 140 miles from Vietnam. China and Vietnamese boats rammed each other, with the Chinese reportedly firing water cannons.
China increasingly is asserting control over a vast area of the South China Sea that it first claimed in the late 1940s. The area is a traditional fishing ground for several countries and is thought to contain significant deposits of oil and natural gas.
Chinese boats have clashed with both the Philippines and Vietnam over contested waters and reefs in recent months. The Philippines has filed an arbitration case against China at a United Nations tribunal in the Hague, and Vietnam, a communist country, is considering joining Manila, a longtime adversary and U.S. ally, in the arbitration.
Following the riots, China sent ships to Vietnam and evacuated thousands of its citizens. On Monday, China urged Vietnam to step up its prosecutions of those responsible for the riots against Chinese factories and others that rioters thought had Chinese connections. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said that two people had been arrested in Vietnam.
“We do not think the punishment is enough,” he said at a daily news briefing.
The two countries fought a three-week war in 1979, after more than 200,000 Chinese troops invaded Vietnam as punishment for Hanoi’s invasion and ouster of Chinese ally Pol Pot, leader of the Khmer Rouge. Tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians died in the fighting, which has been rarely acknowledged by the two countries since the war ended.