On Monday, the U.S. State Department criticized China after reports emerged that a Vietnamese fishing vessel had been sunk near the disputed Paracel Islands.
In a statement, Morgan Ortagus, the U.S. Department of State’s spokesperson, said that the United States was “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.”
“This incident is the latest in a long string of PRC actions to assert unlawful maritime claims and disadvantage its Southeast Asian neighbors in the South China Sea,” she added.
The Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that a fishing boat, No. QNg 90617 TS, was “hindered, rammed and sunk” by a China coast guard ship.
As The Diplomat has reported, the incident involved a Chinese maritime surveillance ship. Both China and Vietnam claimed that the other side’s vessel was illegally operating the area; both countries claim the entirety of the Paracel Islands.
“Since the outbreak of the global pandemic, Beijing has also announced new ‘research stations’ on military bases it built on Fiery Cross Reef and Subi Reef, and landed special military aircraft on Fiery Cross Reef,” the U.S. State Department statement added.
“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 United States has singled out China after previous incidents between Hanoi and Beijing in the South China Sea. Last August, the U.S. Department of Defense criticized China for behavior it described as “bullying.”
“China will not win the trust of its neighbors nor the respect of the international community by maintaining its bullying tactics,” a statement at the time noted. The American reaction came after a Chinese survey ship was conducting activities near Vietnam’s coastline and in Hanoi’s exclusive economic zone.
China, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei, and Taiwan are all territorial claimants in the South China Sea. China claims nearly 90 percent of the waters in the area under its capacious nine-dash line claim, including the entirety of the Spratly Islands where Beijing has built seven artificial islands.
“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,” the State Department said on Monday, referencing the award by a Hague-based tribunal in a 2013 case filed by the Philippines against China after a standoff in 2012 over Scarborough Shoal.