In another setback for China resulting out of its aggressive behaviour in claiming the South China Sea, the United States and Vietnam have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to support Vietnamese fishermen against Chinese intimidation.
The MOU, which aims to strengthen Vietnam’s fisheries management and law enforcement capabilities, came after the US released statements affirming its stance in supporting Southeast Asian nations including Vietnam in disputes with China at sea.
“Beijing uses intimidation to undermine the sovereign rights of Southeast Asian coastal states in the South China Sea, bully them out of offshore resources, assert unilateral dominion, and replace international law with ‘might makes right’,” said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
China and Vietnam have been locked in a stand-off, contesting each other’s claims of maritime rights and seabed exploration endeavours. China has taken a series of provocative actions in the waters since the start of this year as the world is busy battling with the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Maritime Safety Administration of China’s Hainan Province had held military exercises near Vietnam’s Paracel Islands between July 1 and 5.
China’s actions triggered a huge backlash in Vietnam and sent a diplomatic note to protest the illegal exercises, urging non-repetition of the incident. Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry said the exercises violated the country’s sovereignty, complicating negotiations for a Code of Conduct of Parties (COC) in the South China Sea between China and ASEAN, and affecting peace in the region.
The country has multiple times condemned China’s illegal actions in the waters, claiming full legal basis and historical evidence to affirm its sovereignty over the Spratly and Paracel Islands under international law.
The U.S. Defense Department has criticized China’s military exercises in the South China Sea, calling it a violation of China’s commitments in maintaining stability in the region.
The Pentagon said the military exercises were the latest in a long string of China’s actions “to assert unlawful maritime claims and disadvantage its Southeast Asian neighbours in the South China Sea.”
In June, a Chinese Coast Guard patrol vessel and a speedboat chased, rammed and damaged the Vietnamese fishing boat near Lincoln Island in Vietnam’s Hoang Sa (Paracel) Archipelago. On April 2, another Chinese Coast Guard vessel had rammed and sunk a fishing boat while it was fishing off Woody (Phu Lam) Island in the Paracels.
Vietnam condemned the act, and the US and the Philippines joined in the criticism. The Vietnamese fisheries society said that “Such actions by China have occurred many times and are increasing relentlessly, causing insecurity and discontent among Vietnam’s fishermen, reducing Vietnam’s fishing production, causing serious economic losses to fishermen, infringing on Vietnam’s sovereignty and violating Vietnamese and international laws”.
It called on authorities to strongly condemn and immediately stop China from obstructing and ramming Vietnamese fishing boats in Vietnam’s sovereign waters, and take resolute measures against China’s unreasonable actions.
The US has rejected China’s claims to most of the South China Sea, which Vietnam calls the East Sea, including waters surrounding Vietnam’s Vanguard Bank, Luconia Shoals off Malaysia, waters in Brunei’s EEZ, and Natuna Besar off Indonesia. It dismissed China’s action to harass other states’ fishing or hydrocarbon development in these waters as unlawful.