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 cabin. […]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…”We hope the Vietnamese side takes earnest steps to improve education for and management of fishermen to stop such illegal activities.”
As we’ve noted before, the hydrocarbon-rich South China Sea has plenty of countries lined up to stake their claims. This incident occurred near the Paracel islands, claimed by Taiwan, Vietnam and China. These islands don’t have any hydrocarbon reserves of their own, but that hasn’t stopped China from antagonizing the various claimants in the past.We’ve seen signs of moderation coming from Xi Jinping, but if the facts of this provocation of Vietnam check out, it might suggest the changes were more cosmetic than substantive. Is maritime bullying going to be a Xi mainstay, or is this just a twitchy reflex from a Chinese bureaucracy that just hasn’t gotten Xi’s memo yet?Update: This morning, the WSJ reported that China sent four ships to a disputed reef off the coast of Malaysia.