Vietnam’s government has once again rejected China’s imposition of its seasonal fishing ban in the South China Sea. The ban, which is imposed unilaterally each year by Beijing, runs from May to August and applies to all of the waters north of 12 degrees latitude, which includes the bulk of the Gulf of Tonkin and the Paracel Islands, which are occupied by China, but also claimed by Vietnam.
According to an article in VnExpress, Vietnam condemned the fishing ban, calling it “a violation of Vietnam’s sovereignty and territorial jurisdiction” under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
“Vietnam requests China to respect Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Paracel Islands, sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its maritime zones when taking measures to conserve biological resources in the East Sea (South China Sea), without complicating the situation towards maintaining peace, stability and order in the East Sea,” a Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said on Friday.
Radio Free Asia reported earlier this week that the Philippines, the other nation that fishes in the area, has not yet commented on the ban, most likely because of the looming presidential election on May 9. But Manila has in general shown contempt for Beijing’s annual moratorium.
“This fishing ban does not apply to our fishermen,” the Philippines’ South China Sea task force said following the implementation of last year’s ban. “Our fisherfolk are encouraged to go out and fish in our waters in the WPS (West Philippine Sea),” as Manila terms its portions of the waterway.
China has imposed the May 1-August 16 ban since 1999. As the Chinese state-run People’s Daily asserted this week, China views the ban “as part of the country’s efforts to promote sustainable marine fishery development and improve marine ecology.”
Overfishing is indeed a pressing issue in the South China Sea. Rapid population growth and economic development in the nations surrounding the seaway has sent demand for fish rocketing upward, placing immense pressure on the region’s bounteous fish stocks.
China’s introduction of the fishing ban was designed to let these fish stocks recover and regenerate, but it has since become tangled in the sovereignty disputes between China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. “While the ban itself may make sound conservation sense,” Bill Hayton writes in his 2014 book “The South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia,” “its unilateral imposition has prevented other countries from joining it because they fear that acquiescence could be interpreted as recognition of Chinese sovereign rights.”
In any event, Hayton notes, the ban doesn’t apply to Chinese fishing vessels with official licenses to fish in contested waters. “The message to them is clear – head off to the disputed areas, fly the flag and bring home the tuna,” he writes.
The Chinese ban demonstrates the extent to which environmental protection and food security have become hostages to the maritime and territorial disputes in the South China Sea. The fact that the nations that rely heavily on the sea’s fish stocks are both unable and unwilling to agree to mutual fishing limitations and other measures to combat overfishing speaks ill of their ability to solve the underlying sovereignty disputes.