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Vietnamese, Filipino fishermen protest PRC’s fishing ban in South China Sea

Top Stories | May 19, 2020:

Drake Long/Radio Free Asia

Fishermen’s associations in Vietnam and the Philippines protested the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC’s) annual summer fishing ban in the South China Sea and called for their national governments to oppose it, amid the threat of strict enforcement by the China Coast Guard (CCG).

“Vietnamese fishermen have complete rights to fish in waters under their sovereignty,” the Vietnam Fisheries’ Society said in a statement posted to its website that was reported by Vietnamese state media. It added that the ban also violates Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Paracel Islands and international law.

The PRC, which claims virtually all the South China Sea despite competing claims from five governments, announced May 1, 2020, its annual moratorium on fishing within waters where it claims jurisdiction. That includes waters down to the 12th parallel of the South China Sea, encompassing the Paracel Islands and Scarborough Shoal. (Pictured: Activists display anti-China placards and flags during a South China Sea protest at a park in Manila in June 2019.)

The PRC usually only enforces the ban on its own fishing vessels, although fishermen from other countries are also meant to comply In 2020, however, the CCG and Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs have promised a “crackdown” on illegal activity during the ban that lasts until August 16. State-run Xinhua News said the law enforcement campaign would “safeguard the rights and interests of marine fisheries and protect the marine ecological environment.”

The campaign, coupled with the aggressive behavior of CCG cutters in recent months, has some fishermen associations in the region clamoring for a response from their respective governments.

“The Philippine government should not waste time and wait for Chinese maritime officers to arrest our fishermen,” Fernando Hicap, chairman of Pamalakaya, the National Federation of Small Fisherfolk Organizations in the Philippines, said in a statement. “China’s bullying should immediately stop and be protested. We have international and local fisheries laws that can be implemented to combat China’s aggression.”

Radio Free Asia spoke to a Vietnamese fisherman who said he and others would continue to operate near the Paracel Islands but worry about the CCG and maritime militia harassing them. “If we are chased by Chinese ships, we would report to the [local Vietnamese maritime police], but normally the [maritime police] do not help at all.”

The fisherman said there were about 10 fishing boats at the Paracel Islands in early May, defying the ban.

The Vietnam Fisheries’ Society said it had called on the Vietnamese government and ruling Communist Party to take “drastic measures” to oppose and attempt to halt the PRC’s actions. The government-backed society also called for increased patrols to protect local fishermen in Vietnam’s territorial waters.

Another Vietnamese source within the fishing community at Binh Chau, Quang Ngai province, said fishermen typically contact the local Maritime Search and Rescue Center when Chinese ships cut their fishing nets or steal their catch. The center compensates the fishermen for their losses.

Both the Vietnamese fishing community sources requested anonymity to avoid repercussions from authorities for speaking to news media.

The PRC’s summer fishing ban is a recurring point of contention with other South China Sea claimants. When the PRC announced its 2019 ban, Vietnam issued an official protest, but the Philippines, whose President Rodrigo Duterte has sought closer ties with Beijing, did not formally protest.

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