China plays the victim in the South China Sea to overturn the truth

China plays the victim in the South China Sea to overturn the truthOn April 3, 2020, during a regular press conference by Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing, when asked about the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing vessel following its “encounter” with a Chinese coast guard in the South China Sea, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said: "On the early morning of April 2, a Chinese Coast Guard vessel, during a routine patrol, spotted a Vietnamese fishing boat illegally fishing in the internal waters off China's Xisha islands and immediately called out to it to leave. The Vietnamese boat refused to leave and suddenly veered sharply towards the Chinese vessel. Despite its best efforts to keep clear, the Coast Guard vessel was struck at the bow. The Vietnamese fishing boat then took in water and sank. The Chinese Coast Guard vessel immediately carried out a rescue operation, and all eight Vietnamese fishermen were rescued without any injuries. The Chinese Coast Guard vessel let the fishermen go after fulfilling necessary investigation and evidence-collection procedures.”

Hua Chunying's comments are essentially blatant fabrications, having been accompanied by China’s absurd claims about their "sovereignty" in the South China Sea in the past.

In truth, at about 3:00 on April 2, 2020, the Quang Ngai fishing vessel number QNg 90617 TS, with 8 crew members onboard, was operating within the waters of the Paracel Islands under Vietnam's sovereignty when it was hit and sunk by a Chinese vessel. Nearby, there were three other Vietnamese fishing vessels, namely the QNg 90929 TS, QNg 90045 TS and QNg 90399 TS who rushed to the sinking vessel’s rescue. The Chinese Coast Guard vessel picked up the QNg 90617 TS crew, then immediately turned to chase the other fishing vessels. The QNg 90929 TS and the QNg 90045 TS were later detained and towed to Woody Island along with all 8 fishermen of the QNg 90617 TS. Around 6:00 pm on April 3, 2020, China transferred the 8 fishermen from QNg 90617 TS to the QNg 90929 TS and the QNg 90045 TS, and then released both the vessels and fishermen.

Such was what happened on the ground, not the "truth" claimed by Ms. Hua Chunying in her statement. Not only that, next, the Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson alleged that " For some time, Vietnamese fishing boats have frequently entered the territorial sea and internal waters off China's Xisha islands and infringed upon the fishing rights of the Chinese side”.

What China calls "Xisha Islands" is actually the Paracel Islands of Vietnam. China has repeatedly claimed "sovereignty" over these islands to justify their illegal actions there, yet they could never provide any convincing evidence for that claim.

Ms. Hua also blatantly asserted that “They [Vietnamese fishing vessels] ignored and even took dangerous actions to resist China's law enforcement. According to her: “The Chinese side has expressed its grave concern and deploring to the Vietnamese side over this, and demanded that the Vietnamese side earnestly inform its fishermen and regulate their fishing activities to make sure they will not invade the relevant waters of China's Xisha islands or make hazardous moves against China's law enforcement. "

It must be affirmed that the above is an outright lie and totally unacceptable disregard of the law as all Vietnamese fishermen were legally fishing in the Paracel archipelago under Vietnam's sovereignty, with no danger nor confrontation to Chinese vessels, unlike Ms. Hua’s slander. Following are the accounts of the crews that came under attack from the Chinese vessel:

While fishing near Woody Island, the Vietnamese fishing vessel QNg 90617 TS was approached by the Chinese Coast Guard vessel number 4301 and without warning, geared towards Woody island. The captain of the QNg 90617 TS decided to steer away, only to be chased for dozens of nautical miles by the Chinese Coast Guard vessel, whose intention was to attack the Vietnamese fishing boat. Around 3 o’clock, the QNg 90617 TS was fatally hit by the Chinese Coast Guard vessel number 4301 and sunk in mere minutes. All 8 fishermen onboard barely had time to grab their life jackets before they hit the water, as the Chinese vessel looked on. The Vietnamese fishermen were eventually pulled up by their aggressors after being left to struggle for a while. They were illegally taken into Chinese custody on Woody Island, along with two more Vietnamese fishing boats, where they spent hours under interrogation before their eventual release.

Regarding Hua Chunying's slandering on how a Vietnamese fishing boat attacked a Chinese coast guard vessel, a fisherman said: “No way would we crash into a Chinese ship. We fishermen go out to sea with only fishing and safety in mind, not aggression. There is no reason for our small wooden boat to run into a Chinese steel vessel at sea.” In the middle of the vast ocean, 8 fishermen on a small wooden boat must have been mentally disturbed to have dared risking a collision with the heavily armored Chinese Coast Guard ship. Ms. Hua must have known neither shame nor sea to have said such things.

In response to China's unruly action, representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam contacted the representative of the Chinese Embassy in Vietnam on April 3, 2020 and presented a note verbal in protest, requesting that China investigate and discipline any Chinese officials and civil servants involved in the incident, so as not to repeat the situation in future, and to compensate Vietnamese fishermen for any incurred damages.

The Chinese Coast Guard vessel’s recent action has clearly infringed on Vietnam's sovereignty over the Paracel Islands, causing property damages while threatening the safety and legitimate interests of Vietnamese fishermen, contrary to bilateral acknowledgement on the humane treatment of fishermen between the two countries, including the "Vietnam – China Agreement on basic principles guiding the settlement of sea-related issues", not to mention the "Declaration of Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea" (DOC), which further complicates the situation and not at all conducive to bilateral relations in maintaining peace, stability and cooperation in the South China Sea.

As of April 4, 2020, many international media outlets continued to report on Vietnam’s condemnation of the Chinese Coast Guard vessel which sank a Vietnamese fishing boat, as well as demand for compensation from China.

To further clarify, China’s action only better revealed Beijing’s true nature of victim playing and pathological deception, as follows:

Firstly, whenever the South China Sea situation goes sour, China is first to place the blame on the other parties while claiming innocence. One such example is the chain of events in summer 2019 in the South China Sea, not counting the last months of 2019 and the beginning of 2020. While other countries were busy dealing with the Covid 19 pandemic, China carried out a slew of illegal activities to fulfill its longstanding ambition to "monopolize" the South China Sea, namely: 1/ From 19 to 24 December, 2019, China mobilized 63 fishing boats, escorted by Coast Guard vessels, into Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) surrounding Natuna Islands. To justify this action, Beijing argued that it had "sovereignty" over Nansha Islands and the waters surrounding the archipelago, having "ignored" their past claims of "traditional fishing grounds”. In response, Indonesia has rejected both arguments and strongly reaffirmed that Beijing has no legal basis to claim "sovereignty" over "traditional fishing grounds" or the waters surrounding Natuna Islands, according to United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Jakarta even cited the 2016 International Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruling to defend its position. The tense confrontation between Indonesian naval vessels and Chinese ships was only "relieved" once Chinese ship left the disputed waters thanks to President Joko Widodo’s presence on Natuna Islands. However, this infringement incident shows that China has officially declared "jurisdiction" over the waters surrounding Natuna Islands, directly challenging Indonesia's EEZ and paving its way for similar incidents in the future.

2/ On February 2, 2020, The Integrated Research Center for Islands and Reefs of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) officially launched research centers on Subi Reef and Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands. Such action has seriously violated Vietnam's sovereignty, despite sufficient legal basis and historical evidence of Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly Islands, in accordance with international law. This move by Beijing shows that it will continue with construction to "devour" the South China Sea, in spite of international law.

3/ On March 21, 2020, the South China Morning Post reported that Chinese military aircraft had just conducted an anti-submarine drill over the South China Sea, amid a growing number of patrols and exercises by US warships in the region. The exercise took place after the US aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt made a visit to Da Nang, Vietnam on March 5, 2020. The move was said to not only respond to recent US military exercises in the region, but also seen as a "warning" message to Vietnam for expanding defense relations with the US.

Secondly, China continues to use force to threaten other countries. Along with its powerful militia and modern equipments, the Chinese Coast Guard is both law enforcement and “nemesis” at sea, with massive armed vessels to realize China's "malice" in the South China Sea. Like the maritime militia, the Chinese Coast Guard is an armed force masquerading as a civilian cohort. Since 2013, the Coast Guard consists of China Marine Surveillance (CMS) (zhongguo haijian), the Maritime Police and Border Control (BCD) (gong’an bianfang haijing bumen), the Fisheries Law Enforcement Command (FLEC) (zhongguo haizheng), and the General Administration of Customs (GAC). Prior to the consolidation of these forces, FLEC had more than 140 ships, 10 of which are over 1,000 tons; CMS with 280 ships, 27 of which are over 1,000 tons. To date, BCD manages no less than 80 ships of over 1,000 tons, including nearly 30 ships of over 4,000 tons, most of which are armed. Typically, the Haijing 37111 or Haijing 111 35111 are of similar build with a length of 102.4m, displacement (D) of 2,300 tons and a speed of about 20 knots (about 37km/hour). These ships are armed with 76mm cannon and 2 30mm guns. Other 2,500 tons ships from 5 years ago were already equipped with 2 Z-9 multi-role combat helicopters. Since 2016, Beijing has deployed the Haijing 3901 ship with a displacement of up to 12,000 tons, equivalent to that of a large destroyer. The 3901 ship is also equipped with a 76mm cannon in the front, along with a number of other artilleries, hangars and helipads for carrying multi-role combat helicopters. In 2019, Haijing 3901 is one of the constant escorts for the Haiyang Dizhi 08 geological survey vessel on its mission to infringe upon Vietnam's sovereignty and continental shelf along Vanguard Bank. In the event of Indonesia's EEZ invasion in the last days of 2019 near Natuna Islands, the Chinese Coast Guard ships were present from the beginning and their "aggressive actions" required Indonesia to maneuver warships and aircrafts.

Clearly, the Chinese Coast Guard along with the militia is essentially Beijing's semi-official military forces on the front lines at sea, with even more troops in the back. If other countries were to respond with the use of similar maritime vessels, China will take it as an excuse to bring the Navy into play. The use of these "shadowy" forces, under the pretense of "law enforcement" in the South China Sea, is essentially to unilaterally impose Chinese laws, in hope of gaining full control of the entire East Sea, under the label of "legal sovereignty".

In 2015, a senior Chinese leader announced that China would not "militarize" the South China Sea, but in fact, Beijing has since converted seven artificial islands in the South China Sea into military bases. This year, they allowed Coast Guard vessels to sink Vietnamese fishing boat, only to later declare a "rescue operation" for Vietnamese fishermen. It is clear that China had played the victim and blatantly distorted the truth. Those who love peace and truth should always remember one thing: Watch what China does, not what China says.