Oct. 6 – In a 180 degree reversal from last month when China found itself calling on Japan to return a detained fishing captain, Vietnam on Wednesday demanded that China release nine fishermen arrested in the South China Sea near the disputed Paracel Island group.
The Vietnamese fishermen were arrested Sept. 11, Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry announced. China is demanding that the boat owner pay a fine for fishing with explosives before the crew will be released, the ministry said.
The Vietnamese government contends that there were no explosives aboard the boat and that the fishermen were only using lamps and nets to fish.
“The arrest and settlement are irrational,” an unnamed Foreign Ministry official told Vietnamese state media.
Discussions have been held in Hanoi and Beijing, but China has refused to release the fishermen and their boat until the fine is paid, the ministry said. Vietnam maintains that no laws were broken and the boat was operating in its own waters.
The row comes a week before regional defense ministers are scheduled to meet in Hanoi at an ASEAN conference.
China has become increasingly assertive in disputed areas where it claims sovereignty. Last month, relations between China and Japan plunged to the lowest level in years after the captain of a Chinese fishing boat was detained near a disputed island group in the East China Sea following a collision between the trawler and a Japanese patrol vessel.