HANOI (AFP) — Vietnam on Thursday denied reports of an alleged attack by Vietnamese fishing crews on Chinese fishermen after China requested a thorough investigation into the incident.
Chinese state media reported Wednesday that up to 10 Chinese boats fishing in international waters in the Gulf of Tonkin were attacked and robbed of equipment by about a dozen armed Vietnamese fishing vessels on January 7.
“China is highly concerned about the case and has made representations to Vietnam and requested the Vietnamese side seriously investigate,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters.
Vietnam denied the claims later Thursday.
A preliminary investigation found that four Chinese fishing boats and three Vietnamese ones clashed after the anchors they used to hold the fishing nets down became stuck together, Vietnamese foreign ministry spokesman Le Dung said.
“After the fishermen took them apart and drew up the nets, the boats continued to fish normally again,” he told the state-run Vietnam News Agency. The investigation was continuing, Dung said.
No injuries or fatalities were reported in the incident but several of the Chinese boats were struck by bullets, China’s People’s Daily newspaper reported. It also said the Vietnamese crews took Chinese fishing equipment.
The incident followed a series of peaceful December public protests in Vietnam against China’s claims over the disputed Spratly and Paracel islands. Vietnam eventually halted the protests following complaints from Beijing.
The two island chains have been flashpoints for years. The Spratlys are claimed in full or part by China and Vietnam as well as the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, and the Paracels by China, Vietnam and Taiwan.
The islands have potential oil and gas reserves and rich fishing grounds, and are located next to one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.