Prioritize ASEAN-China cooperation on equal, humane treatment of fishermen: Vietnam

By Vo Hai   November 3, 2020 | 05:30 pm PT
Prioritize ASEAN-China cooperation on equal, humane treatment of fishermen: Vietnam
Fishing boats are arranged in a way to make them safe against the rough seas in Quang Ngai Province as Storm Molave was on its way to Vietnam's central coast, October 27, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.
Vietnam urged greater understanding of and compassion for distressed fishermen’s situation in the East Sea at a workshop held in Hanoi Tuesday.

The workshop aimed at getting ASEAN and China to work together on ensuring equal and humane treatment of fishermen in the East Sea, which is known internationally as the South China Sea. It was part of implementing regulations in the Declaration on the Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea regarding treatment of distressed seafarers, said Deputy Foreign Minister Nguyen Quoc Dung.

Held both online and offline, the workshop attracted the participation of over 120 delegates, including senior officials, researchers, legal experts, and representatives from the embassies of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states and China in Vietnam as well as several international organizations.

Delegates noted that fishermen make up a significant number of seafarers in the East Sea, braving natural disasters, storms and crashes to eke out a livelihood.

Deputy Minister Dung suggested that all parties review and discuss with fishermen their situation and condition, as well as share regulations and good practices for their protection and humane treatment.

He also asked delegates to make recommendations to promote cooperation between ASEAN and China in this area.

"This should not be just a mere confidence-building measure. It needs to be a priority area of cooperation to bring practical benefits to the people of both ASEAN and China," he said.

Delegates from ASEAN countries also noted that most of the fishing activities are small-scale, rudimentary and use outdated technologies. A majority of their fishermen are in difficult financial circumstances and face many challenges and dangers in the East Sea and therefore need long-term support.

Regarding the legal framework to ensure this, workshop delegates said many international agreements, treaties as well as practices recognize the paramount importance of ensuring safety of lives and the humanitarian treatment of seafaring fishermen.

The workshop noted positive results achieved in cooperation between countries on search and rescue missions at sea, as well as the experience and results of implementing documents on cooperation between Indonesia and Malaysia on the treatment of fishermen operating in the delimited waters between the two countries. These are valuable reference material for researching and promoting cooperation between ASEAN and China in the coming time, they agreed.

The workshop was an initiative proposed by Vietnam within the framework of implementing relevant regulations of the DOC to strengthen trust and promote dialogue between ASEAN and China.

It is expected that results of discussions and recommendations agreed on at workshop will be reported to the ASEAN-China official channel on DOC implementation.

Troubled waters

In October 2017, the European Commission applied a yellow card warning on seafood from Vietnam after a number of Vietnamese fishing vessels were caught trespassing in neighboring waters.

Vietnam’s fisheries exports have since been subject to intense scrutiny, with all seafood containers inspected in a process that could take three to four weeks and cost 500 euros ($633) per container. A rejected container can cost an exporter nearly $12,000, and the risk of rejection is high.

The EC had initially stated it would remove the yellow card in June 2018, and later said it would consider doing so in January this year, but nothing has happened to date.

Even with a long 3,260 km (2,025 miles) coastline, Vietnam has been running out of near-shore seafood sources and is considering fishing bans in certain places at certain times. Authorities said last year that a fishing ban was needed to cope with the decline in fisheries caused by over exploitation.

The ban is yet to come into force. Some fishermen who have sailed to other countries said apart from the decline in resources, they also face threats from Chinese trawlers illegally anchored in Vietnamese waters. The Chinese side has been prone to aggression, often chasing Vietnamese boats away and cutting off an important source of seafood.

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