Vietnamese fishermen call for action against China

HANOI (Reuters) - A Vietnamese fishermen’s group has called on the government to take stronger measures for the removal of a Chinese oil survey vessel that Vietnam accuses of violating its sovereignty in the South China Sea.

Vietnamese and Chinese ships have been in a weeks-old standoff near an offshore oil block, the latest confrontation in waters that are a potential global flashpoint as the United States challenges China’s sweeping maritime claims.

The busy waterway will be high on the agenda this week as countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meet in Bangkok with foreign ministers from China, the United States and other powers.

Vietnam has accused Chinese survey vessel Haiyang Dizhi 8 and its escorts of conducting illegal activities in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf and demanded that China remove all of the ships.

China in turn demanded that Vietnam “respect China’s sovereign rights”.

The Vietnam Fisheries Society said it requested “the authorities of Vietnam to protest more strongly against China’s activities...and demand that China immediately withdraw the Haiyang Dizhi 8 from Vietnamese waters.”

The group posted the statement, dated July 29, on its website on Tuesday. It said it had also been sent to the foreign ministry, the defense ministry and other government agencies.

Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment. China’s foreign ministry did not respond immediately.

“The Vietnam Fisheries Society strongly opposes the Chinese side’s activities that seriously violate Vietnam’s sovereignty and Vietnamese laws, affecting the fishing activities of Vietnamese fishermen in Vietnamese waters,” it said.

On July 20, the U.S. State Department said it was concerned by reports of China’s interference with oil and gas activities in the South China Sea, including Vietnam’s long-standing exploration and production activities.

In response, China’s foreign ministry described the U.S. comments as slanderous.

A recent spate of articles in Vietnam’s tightly controlled media has condemned Chinese activities as provocative and unacceptable. Social media users have also called on the government to launch a lawsuit against China.

In 2014, drilling by a Chinese vessel off Vietnam triggered boat rammings by both sides and anti-China riots in Vietnam. China subsequently withdrew the oil rig.

The South China Sea is a vital route for ships carrying more than $3 trillion in trade every year. The Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have overlapping claims to parts of it.

Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Clarence Fernandez