Foreign Policy Blogs

Another Vietnamese Fishing Boat Attacked

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Strange Dream No. 2 by Pham Huy Thong/Craig Thomas Gallery, HCMC, Vietnam

On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed Resolution 174 calling for the peaceful resolution of maritime territorial disputes in the South China Sea and the East China Sea. The resolution stressed the U.S. government’s support for “freedom of navigation and other internationally lawful uses of sea and airspace in the Asia-Pacific region, and condemns the use of force to impede these freedoms in international maritime domains and airspace.”

China’s government issued a similar call in a key foreign policy speech last month, as Chinese President Xi Jinping, in an unusual address to the Australian Parliament in Canberra on Nov. 17, spoke of China seeking “peaceful development” and opposed the “willful use or threat of force” and vowed China would “properly handle territorial and island disputes.”

U.S. President Barack Obama had earlier warned of “disputes over territory — remote islands and rocky shoals — that threaten to spiral into confrontation” at the weekend G20 summit in Brisbane late last month, calling for Beijing to be a responsible player on the world stage. With world leaders and government lawmakers all talking peace in their respective capital cities, one would think the message had reached the frontlines of China’s battlefield in the South China Seas.

Yet, last Thursday, a Vietnamese wooden fishing boat returning to the central province of Quang Ngai was badly damaged following attacks from three Chinese vessels near the Paracel Islands, which the Vietnamese call the Hoang Sa. According to Vietnamese media, the damaged boat was one of the 50 local boats that have been fishing there for the last 30 years. Reports from local media told of the boat being initially confronted by a Chinese coast guard vessel which cut through their fishing lines. As the Vietnamese boat came within four nautical miles from shore, two other Chinese ships gave chase, one of the Chinese boats firing a water cannon at the boat and another Chinese ship crashing into the boat. The Vietnamese boat was able to return to shore – with the local fishermen reporting this incident as the most violent and severe attack they know of.

Perhaps Xi’s message of conciliation, or remaining “unshakeable in its resolve to pursue peaceful development” and his statement, “Neither turbulence nor war serves the fundamental interests of the Chinese people” has yet to trickle down to the frontlines of confrontation. There is an old saying in China that “the hills are high and the emperor is far away” – perhaps this still holds true in China despite decades of advances in communication technology. Or perhaps Xi’s message of peaceful development, “There’s only one trend in today’s world, that is, the trend of peace and development and win/win cooperation,” is mere rhetoric, with the military possessing the tacit understanding that whatever they do to protect China’s interests will go unpunished in a country which would dare not prosecute a patriotic act.

Yet Chinese authorities would do well to heed and implement Xi’s warning that using more force will ultimately backfire. Xi earlier warned, “A review of history shows that countries that attempted to pursue development with force invariably failed.” Beijing’s aggressive actions in the East and South China Seas are already backfiring, as Japan increases its ability to respond to maritime threats and Vietnam and the Philippines beef up their military capabilities. Vietnam has already announced a new loan subsidized program allowing fishermen to purchase stronger metal boats, and a new Vietnam Fisheries Resources Surveillance force was set up last April. Should incidents like the above continue to occur, countries such as Vietnam and the Philippines will continue to beef up their military response, and China’s pursuit of development, of controlling the waters, will ultimately fail.



Gary Sands

Gary Sands is a Senior Analyst at Wikistrat, a crowdsourced consultancy, and a Director at Highway West Capital Advisors, a venture capital, project finance and political risk advisory. He has contributed a number of op-eds for Forbes, U.S. News and World Report, Newsweek, Washington Times, The Diplomat, The National Interest, International Policy Digest, Asia Times, EurasiaNet, Eurasia Review, Indo-Pacific Review, the South China Morning Post, and the Global Times. He was previously employed in lending and advisory roles at Shell Capital, ABB Structured Finance, and the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation. He earned his Masters of Business Administration in International Business from the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and a Bachelor of Science in Finance at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Connecticut. He spent six years in Shanghai from 2006-2012, four years in Rio de Janeiro, and is currently based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Twitter@ForeignDevil666