Beijing claims the ban on fishing activities in the waters above the 12th parallel, which includes areas near the Scarborough Shoal, the Paracel Islands, and the Gulf of Tonkin, is in order to conserve decimated stocks. But countries that reject China’s sweeping claim over the vast resource-rich South China Sea have responded with fury at Beijing’s supposed, “unilateral decision”. Fishing communities in Vietnam and the Philippines have urged their governments to make a strong response.
The Vietnam Fisheries Society said in a statement on its website: “Vietnamese fishermen have the complete rights to fish in waters under their sovereignty.”
Vietnam has called into question the decision made by Beijing to ban fishing in the region from May 1 to August 16.
Vietnam claim that they have sovereignty over their waters as defined by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said: “Vietnam asks China not to further complicate the situation in the South China Sea.”
In Manila, local fishery organisations also called on the Philippine government not to give in to “China’s bullying”.
Fernando Hicap, chairman of the National Federation of Small Fisherfolk Organisations said: “The Philippine government should not waste time and wait for Chinese maritime officers to arrest our fishermen.
“They have no right and moral ascendancy to declare a fishing ban in the guise of conserving fish stocks in marine waters that they have no legal claim, and they have massively destroyed through reclamation activities.”
But China warns they have promised to take the “strictest measures” to stop any “illegal fishing activities” during the period of the ban.
China suggests the ban will promote peace amid simmering disputes with Manila and Hanoi over the Scarborough Reef and other islands in the South China Sea.
Presently China has been negotiating a code of conduct with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in order to bring about a settlement of the disputes in the region, but there has been little visible progress.
China claims much of the South China Sea, but there are overlapping claims by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
The US has also challenged Beijing’s territorial claims.
There have been recent signs of tensions in the South China Sea amid the coronavirus situation.
Tensions are escalating after Vietnam in April charged a Chinese marine surveillance ship with sinking a Vietnamese fishing boat near the contested Paracel Islands.
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Last week, the US Navy said a guided-missile destroyer had sailed through waters near the Paracel islands, challenging China’s claim to the area.
The USS Barry undertook the so-called “freedom of navigation operation” after Beijing upped its claims to the region by designating an official administrative district for the islands.
The US sought to assert the “rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea recognised in international law”, the Navy reportedly said in a statement.
The statement added: “Unlawful and sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea pose an unprecedented threat to the freedom of the seas, including the freedoms of navigation and overflight and the right of innocent passage of all ships.”
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