Vietnam took aim at China on Thursday for imposing an annual ban on fishing in a vast area of the South China Sea, calling it a violation of its sovereignty and urging Beijing not to complicate matters.
China has imposed the ban each year since 1999 and Vietnam routinely opposes it. China says the ban, which will apply from May 1 to Aug. 16, is to promote sustainable fishing and improve marine ecology.
It covers waters 12 degrees north of the equator and includes parts of Vietnam’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as well as the Paracel islands, which the two countries have both occupied and have contested for decades.
“China’s so-called fishing ban violates Vietnam’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa and the sovereign rights and jurisdiction in Vietnamese waters and its exclusive economic zone,” Doan Khac Viet, a Vietnam’s foreign ministry spokesperson told a regular news briefing.
Hoang Sa is the Vietnamese name for the Paracel Islands.
Viet called on China to respect Vietnam’s sovereignty and “not to complicate the situation”.
China claims more than 90% of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea via a U-shaped “nine-dash line” on its maps, which stretches deep into Southeast Asia and cuts into the EEZs of the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia.
China has deployed hundreds of vessels to bolster its claims, some more than 1,000 km off its mainland, and has been accused by some neighbors of trying to disrupt energy exploration activities.
Last month, Reuters reported based on vessel-tracking data that a Vietnamese ship had been sent to monitor a Chinese coast guard vessel patrolling near a Russian-operated gas field in Vietnam’s EEZ exclusive economic zone, one of dozens of such patrols.