HANOI, March 26 Vietnam has accused China of
opening fire on a fishing boat in the disputed South China Sea
and burning down its cabin, charges denied by Beijing on Tuesday
as tensions resurface over sovereignty in the energy-rich
Claims by an increasingly powerful China over most of the
South China Sea have set it directly against U.S. allies Vietnam
and the Philippines. Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia also claim
parts of the waters and China has a separate dispute with Japan
in the East China Sea.
A statement posted on the Vietnamese government's website
said the trawler was chased away and came under attack from
Chinese ships near the Paracel islands on March 20, calling the
incident a breach of international maritime law.
Vietnam's state-controlled newspapers showed photographs on
Tuesday of what they said were the charred remains of the ship's
"This is a very serious case, violating Vietnam's
sovereignty," the Foreign Ministry said in the statement posted
late on Monday.
"Vietnam resolutely opposes this and demands China
investigates and strictly deals with the above inhumane
wrongdoing and compensates for the damages carried by Vietnamese
Vietnam's condemnation of China's claims to the sea and its
numerous reefs and tiny islands was the strongest since early
December, when it accused Chinese ships of sabotaging an
exploration operation by state oil and gas company, Petrovietnam
by cutting a seismic cable.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei rejected
Vietnam's claim that the trawler had been damaged and urged it
to teach its fishermen to stay out of its waters.
"The response by the relevant Chinese body against the
illegal Vietnamese fishing boat was appropriate and reasonable,"
Hong told reporters in Beijing.
"We hope the Vietnamese side takes earnest steps to improve
education for and management of fishermen to stop such illegal
The South China Sea holds around 11 billion barrels of oil
and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in proven and
probable reserves, according to the U.S. Energy Information
In a sign of China's increasing military assertiveness at
home and abroad, it announced earlier this month a 10.7 percent
increase in annual defence spending to 740.6 billion yuan ($119
The latest flare-up comes at a bad time for the Association
of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which on April 24 will begin
its first summit of the year in Brunei.
The South China Sea has long been a divisive issue for the a
grouping set to become an integrated economic community within
three years. Several of its members are dependent on China for
trade and investment, while others are at odds with Beijing over
its maritime claims.
ASEAN's credibility was dealt a major blow last year when it
failed to issue a joint communique for the first time in its
history, with no agreement among its 10 members on a common
stance over the South China Sea.
China was accused of leaning on allies to ensure there was
no mention of the issue in the statement, a claim it denied.
(Reporting by Martin Petty in Hanoi and Ben Blanchard in
Beijing; Editing by Nick Macfie)