Chinese Coast Guard vessel CCG 4201 fired a water cannon at Vietnamese fishing boat near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea
Two Vietnamese fishermen were injured when a Chinese Coast Guard vessel fired a water cannon at their boat near the contested Paracel Islands, the latest casualties in China’s aggressive campaign to expand its control in the South China Sea.
Tuesday’s incident, ahead of U.S. President Joe Biden’s visit to Vietnam on Sept. 10, happened as the fishing boat was moving from Woody Island to Observation Bank in the waters surrounding the Paracels, Vietnamese state media reported.
The ship’s owner, Huynh Van Hoanh, 43, suffered a broken right arm while fisherman Huynh Van Tien sustained a head injury during the attack by Coast Guard ship 4201.
The Paracel Islands, known as the Xisha Islands in Chinese and the Hoàng Sa Archipelago in Vietnamese, comprise about 130 small coral islands and reefs.
Claimed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan, they have been occupied entirely by Beijing since 1974 after the Chinese navy defeated the then-South Vietnamese navy in a brief sea battle. Triton is the closest island in the chain to Vietnam.
Researcher Nguyen The Phuong from the University of New South Wales in Canberra, Australia, said he expected to see more tensions between China and Vietnam in the South China Sea as the date of Biden’s trip approached.
Regardless of whether Vietnam and the U.S. upgrade their relationship to a “comprehensive strategic partnership” or “strategic partnership,” China will continue its maritime strategy of “rocking the tree to threaten the monkey,” he said.
The Vietnamese fishing boat QNg 90495T is seen in port after it was attacked with a water cannon by Chinese Coast Guard vessel CCG 4201 near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, Aug. 29, 2023.
Marine Traffic data
Meanwhile, the same Chinese Coast Guard vessel and an unspecified Vietnamese boat, Ly Son 62908, have been chasing each other since Aug. 19 in the waters around Triton Island, where China recently built a 600-meter (2,000-foot) military airstrip.
China’s Coast Guard in recent years has ramped up its attacks on Vietnamese fishing boats by ramming them or firing water cannons to assert Beijing’s territorial claims in the resource-rich waters of the South China Sea.
The Coast Guard ship was operating in the middle of the Paracel Islands on the day of the attack, according to the automatic identification system, or AIS, data from maritime analytics provider Marine Traffic. The self-reporting system lets vessels broadcast their identification information, characteristics and destination.
The Vietnamese boat Ly Son 62908 was once only 300 meters from the Chinese coast guard vessel CCG 4201 near Triton Island in the South China Sea, Aug. 25, 2023. Credit: MarineTraffic.com
Raymond Powell of the Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation at Stanford University and a former U.S. defense official, told Radio Free Asia that the position of the Coast Guard vessel coincided with the location of the attack reported by the fishing boat owner.
Marine Traffic data also indicated that the second Vietnamese ship had been moving around Triton Island. Since Aug. 19, the Coast Guard ship and Vietnam’s Ly Son 62908 have been following each other closely, and at one time were only 300 meters (1,000 feet) apart in distance.
On Aug. 27, the Chinese Coast Guard ship left the Triton Island area, headed northeast and arrived in the middle of the Paracel Islands, where it assaulted the other Vietnamese fishing boat, QNg 90495TS, two days later.
After the attack, the Coast Guard ship returned to the Triton Island area and continued the chasing game with Vietnam’s ship, Ly Son 62908. To date, the two ships are still following each other in the area.
Into the zone
Researcher Hoang Viet pointed out that China has intensified its aggressive actions since a phone conversation between U.S. President Joe Biden and Vietnamese General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong in March and the visit to Vietnam by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in mid-April.
China had repeatedly sent its survey ship Xiang Yang Hong 10 into Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone, which extend 200 nautical miles (230 miles) beyond a nation’s territorial sea, he said.
Powell told RFA he believed it was a small militia vessel, and that the fishing boat had gone further east than the regular route of Vietnamese Coast Guard or militia ships. He also said although Vietnam claimed sovereignty over the Paracel Islands, it rarely sent security vessels to the middle of this archipelago.
“In fact, I’ve never seen them do that,” he said.
The attack on the fishing boat also followed an Aug. 5 incident in which a Chinese Coast Guard ship shot water cannons at a Philippine boat en route to providing food and supplies to Philippine forces on the Second Thomas Shoal.