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The action taken by Chinese authorities regarding a Vietnamese boat illegally fishing last week in the waters off China's Xisha Islands in the South China Sea was "necessary and legitimate", Beijing said on Tuesday.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters that China has indisputable sovereignty over the Xisha Islands and their adjacent waters, and the Vietnamese fishing boat entered the waters for "illegal fishing operations".
"According to confirmation by relevant parties, no harm was done to the Vietnamese ship at that time and place," Hong said.
Vietnam claimed on Monday that a Vietnamese boat was "chased and fired at" by an unknown number of Chinese ships, and "its cabin was burned down" in the waters on March 20, according to Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi.
The fishing boat came from Vietnam's Quang Ngai province. Hanoi urged Beijing to investigate and "compensate Vietnamese fishermen for their loss" in a statement on the ministry's website.
The statement did not say how many Chinese ships or what kind of vessels were involved, and Hanoi has not conceded that the fishing operation was illegal.
"China urges the Vietnamese to take effective measures to improve education and management of its fishermen and stop illegal operations," Hong said.
Wu Shicun, director of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, said China's Xisha Islands are not within the scope of a territorial dispute, and Vietnam's hype about the confrontation is meant to aggravate the regional situation.
China has exercised restraint on the issue, but "Vietnam has planned to bluff the international community by playing the role of victim, and it is actually trying to justify its illegal claim over the islands", Wu warned.
As for the Vietnamese ship, it was not the first time it was caught illegally fishing, as previous media reports showed that it was among the two Vietnam-registered fishing ships that were driven out of China's territorial waters by a China Marine Surveillance fleet on March 13.
The two ships were driven out of the waters by the patrol ships Haijian 262 and Haijian 263, Xinhua News Agency reported.
Similar cases of illegal fishing were reported in recent years, and Beijing had previously sent warnings to Hanoi on acts by Vietnamese fishermen. On March 4, 2012, Chinese authorities investigated and punished two Vietnamese fishing boats and 21 Vietnamese fishermen for illegally fishing in waters off the Xisha Islands.
Li Guoqiang, deputy director of the Center for Chinese Borderland History and Geography at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the waters off the Xisha Islands have seen a growing number of illegal operations by Vietnamese fishermen, and Hanoi's policies and attitudes have been widely viewed as contributing to the incidents.
"Vietnam should be aware of the impact on bilateral ties with China," Li warned.
Relations between the two nations soured after Vietnam's National Assembly passed a "Vietnamese Law of the Sea" in June, claiming China's Xisha and Nansha Islands in the South China Sea as being "within Vietnam's sovereignty and jurisdiction".
(China Daily 03/27/2013 page10)