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Hanoi Protests China’s Fishing Ban

Hanoi Protests China's Fishing Ban

A Vietnamese sinking boat (L) which was rammed and then sunk by Chinese vessels is seen near a Marine Guard ship (R) at Ly Son island of Vietnam’s central Quang Ngai province May 29, 2014. (REUTERS/Stringer)

Hanoi officially expressed its displeasure over Beijing’s annual fishing ban in the South China Sea at a regular press conference last week.

The unilateral fishing ban, announced by China’s Ministry of Agriculture, is in effect from May 1 to August 16 and ostensibly issued and enforced to protect against overfishing. The ban includes the Hoang Sa Archipelago (Paracel Islands), Gulf of Tonkin, and Scarborough Shoal (Bajo de Masinloc, or Panatag Shoal) and has applied to fishermen from both China and other countries since 1999.

During the press conference, Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Le Thi Thu Hang reiterated Hanoi’s position over the waters, arguing, “Vietnam vehemently opposes China’s unilateral ban on fishing as it violates Vietnam’s authority over Hoang Sa archipelago and its legitimate rights and interests regarding its seas.”

As noted by Hanoi, China’s action is not in the spirit of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China (East Vietnam) Sea (DOC) signed by ASEAN and China in 2002, that promises to “enhance favourable conditions for a peaceful and durable solution of differences and disputes among countries concerned.”

Indeed, Beijing’s annual fishing ban extends to waters that have been traditional fishing grounds of Vietnamese fishermen for years. In the last few years, there have been dozens of attacks by Chinese naval vessels on Vietnamese fishing boats in the Paracel Island chain, some of which took place during China’s annual fishing ban. In June 2015, the attacks came every week, as Vietnamese fishing boats were surrounded and boarded by Chinese crews, their fishing gear and catch confiscated, and their boats often damaged by water cannons.

With this history, and the recent fishing ban in mind, Vietnamese State President Tran Dai Quang travels to Beijing to attend the Belt and Road Initiative summit from May 11 to 15, joining some 27 other national leaders. The leaders will discuss the resurgence of the ancient Silk Road trading routes that once carried goods between China and Europe. The Belt and Road Initiative, formerly known as “One Belt, One Road,” was put forth in 2013 by General Secretary of the Communist Party of China and President of China, Xi Jinping.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative is important to Hanoi, as Vietnam exported some $16.6 billion (10 percent of total) to China in 2015, according to the World Bank. In recent months, Hanoi and Beijing have had a series of cordial meetings to reduce tensions, and President Quang’s visit next week to Beijing could be another opportunity to reduce tensions over the annual fishing ban.

Yet Beijing will be reluctant to lift the ban in waters it considers its own, and Quang (the former head of the ministry of public security) will likely focus next week on bringing more of the trade and investment benefits from China’s Belt and Road Initiative to Vietnam, while his fishermen stay close to shore.



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