HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Vietnam has accused Chinese authorities of beating several of its fishermen and demanded severe punishment for those involved. China denied the allegation on Wednesday and said the fishermen had been detained for illegal fishing.
It was the latest confrontation boosting tensions in a sea dispute between the Communist neighbors.
Vietnam's Foreign Ministry said in a statement posted on its website late Tuesday that a Vietnamese boat which was fishing near the Paracel islands on Aug. 15 was intercepted by two Chinese speedboats. It said the Chinese vandalized the fishing boat, confiscated property and beat the fishermen. The Paracels are occupied by China but also claimed by Vietnam.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Wednesday that the Vietnamese account was "completely false." She said a Vietnamese fishing boat entered Chinese waters and was using explosives to catch fish and that Chinese authorities had detained the boat and confiscated the explosives.
Vietnam demanded that China severely punish those involved in the incident and compensate the fishermen, Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh said in the statement. The delay in lodging the demand was because it took time to investigate the incident. Vietnam lodged a protest with the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi.
Relations between Hanoi and Beijing plunged to their lowest point in years following the deployment of a Chinese deep-sea oil rig near the Paracels in May. China sent a flotilla of vessels to protect the oil rig while Vietnam dispatched coast guard and sea patrol boats to try to force it away. Vessels from the two sides repeatedly rammed each other near the rig.
The oil rig deployment sparked anti-China protests and riots in some parts of Vietnam, resulting in the deaths of four Chinese and injuries to hundreds more. Protesters also set dozens of factories on fire and damaged hundreds of others they believed were connected with China.
China removed the oil rig in July after it said it had completed its work, and since then the two sides have been trying to mend relations.