The U.S. has condemned the reported sinking of a Vietnamese fishing vessel by a China Coast Guard ship near the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.
“We are seriously concerned by reports of the PRC’s sinking of a Vietnamese fishing vessel in the vicinity of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea”, said a statement released by U.S. Department of State Spokesperson, Morgan Ortagus.
The eight crew members of the fishing boat were initially “captured and detained” on a nearby island. Two more Vietnamese fishing vessels which tried to rescue the fishermen were also temporarily detained. China later released the eight fishermen and the two Vietnamese boats.
The Paracel Islands, also known as Hoàng Sa (meaning “Golden sand”) in Vietnamese and Xisha in Chinese, are a disputed archipelago in the South China Sea currently controlled and occupied by China. The islands are also claimed by Vietnam (occupied before 1974) and Taiwan. The archipelago is approximately equidistant from the coastlines of China (PRC) and Vietnam.
The State Department statement said that the incident is the latest in a long string of PRC [People’s Republic of China] actions “to assert unlawful maritime claims and disadvantage its Southeast Asian neighbors in the South China Sea”.
Beijing has recently announced new “research stations” on military bases it built on Fiery Cross Reef and Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands and landed special military aircraft on Fiery Cross Reef since the global outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. China has also continued to deploy maritime militia around the Spratly Islands.
The statement noted that China’s Nine-Dashed Line was deemed an unlawful maritime claim by an arbitral tribunal convened under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention in July 2016, a position shared by the U.S. Government.
“We call on the PRC to remain focused on supporting international efforts to combat the global pandemic, and to stop exploiting the distraction or vulnerability of other states to expand its unlawful claims in the South China Sea”, the statement added.