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Ensuring equal and humane treatment of fishermen in Bien Dong Sea (South China Sea)

November 04, 2020 | 13:05

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Nguyen Quoc Dung stressed the need to promote “dialogue and cooperation between ASEAN and China in ensuring just and humane treatment of fishermen,” especially those who are in danger.

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Ensuring equal and humane treatment of fishermen in east sea
Deputy Foreign Minister Nguyen Quoc Dung addresses the workshop. Source: VNA

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs on November 3 held an ASEAN-China workshop on promoting cooperation in ensuring the just and humane treatment of fishermen in the Bien Dong Sea (internationally called South China Sea).

The workshop, in both online and offline forms, attracted the participation of over 120 delegates, including senior officials, researchers, legal experts, and representatives from the embassies of ASEAN member states and China in Vietnam and several international organisations.

The event was an initiative of Vietnam under the ASEAN-China Joint Working Group on the Implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (JWG-DOC), with the proposals and recommendations from the experts to be reported to ASEAN-China officials’ channels on DOC implementation.

In his opening remarks, Deputy Foreign Minister Nguyen Quoc Dung said that fishermen constitute the majority of sea-going persons in the East Sea and hold a special position in societies throughout ASEAN and also China.

It is estimated that nearly 200 million people depend on fisheries resources of the East Sea for their livelihood, he said, adding that fishermen, however, remain vulnerable to danger or distress at sea, , including increasingly complex weather patterns and frequency of natural disaster, accidents and collisions, Dung said.

“Over the past years, ASEAN Member States and China have undertaken various efforts in providing assistance and ensuring humane treatment to fishermen, including through their implementation of existing instruments related to safety at sea,” Dung said.

Ensuring equal and humane treatment of fishermen in east sea
Vietnamese tuna fishermen from Khanh Hoa Province. VNA/VNS Photo

In 2010, the ASEAN Foreign Ministers issued the ASEAN Declaration on Cooperation in Search and Rescue of Persons and Vessels in Distress at Sea, which demonstrates ASEAN’s political will to reinforce cooperation in providing mutual assistance to persons and vessels in distress at sea, he added.

He stressed the importance of promoting dialogue and cooperation between ASEAN and China in ensuring the just and humane treatment of fishermen, especially those who are in danger or distress.

It should be acknowledged that protection and provision of just, humane treatment to fishermen are cross-sectoral in nature, which requires a holistic approach to address, the Vietnamese diplomat said, acknowledging that there remains a certain difference in each others’ understanding of the issue, which results in a different application of law enforcement practice.

In this context, the cooperation between China and ASEAN to promote the issue as one of the “confidence-building measures” to implement the DOC, as well as to serve the benefits of fishing communities and the people as a whole in the region, he said.

Within the workshop, participants emphasised the need for long-term support for fishermen, as most face a range of difficulties and challenges in the Bien Dong Sea.

Many have said it is necessary to adopt an overall approach to ensuring the safety and humane treatment of fishermen, including building a set of tools to address this problem in the East Sea.

Some positive examples – including the experience and actual progress in implementation of common guidelines for treatment of fishermen between Indonesia and Malaysia in the still-disputed waters between the two countries – are seen as valuable references for ASEAN-China framework in the future./.

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