Vietnam demands China release 9 fishermen seized in South China Sea

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Vietnam demands China release 9 fishermen

HANOI, Vietnam — Vietnam demanded on Wednesday that China release nine fishermen arrested in the South China Sea, in the latest row in the region over islands claimed by Beijing.

The Vietnamese fishermen were arrested Sept. 11 near the Paracel Islands, Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry announced in state-controlled media. The islands are claimed by both China and Vietnam.

China has since demanded that the boat owner pay a fine for fishing with explosives, the ministry said.

Vietnam’s government said there were no explosives aboard, only equipment such as nets and lamps.

“The arrest and settlement are irrational,” state newspapers quoted an unidentified Foreign Ministry official as saying.

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.

China’s Foreign Ministry was closed for a public holiday Wednesday and calls to a duty officer were not immediately returned.

China claims sovereignty over the entire South China Sea, including the Paracel and Spratly islands, which are also claimed in whole or in part by Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines.

China has become more aggressive in asserting its sovereignty over the disputed areas, prompting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to say in July that it was in the U.S. national interest for the Communist giant to resolve territorial claims in the South China Sea with its neighbors.

Last month, relations between China and Japan plunged to their lowest level in years after a collision between a Chinese trawler and two Japanese patrol vessels near islands in the East China Sea claimed by both countries.

Japan detained the Chinese boat captain, enraging Beijing. The captain was eventually released, and the two countries officially announced an end to the dispute on Wednesday, but each continues to claim the territory.

High-ranking Chinese defense officials are expected to attend a regional security meeting in Hanoi next week along with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

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