Published March 25, 2013
| Associated Press
HANOI, Vietnam – Vietnam has accused a Chinese vessel of firing on a Vietnamese fishing boat in the disputed South China Sea and setting its cabin alight, exposing tensions in the region over rival claims to the gas-rich waters.
The government described the incident last Wednesday as "very serious" and lodged a formal complaint with the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi.
The fishing boat was near the Paracel islands when it was chased and shot at by an unidentified Chinese vessel, the government statement said late Monday.
It demanded China punished those responsible and pay reparations to the fishermen whose boat was damaged. The government didn't say if anyone was injured.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said it had no immediate response to the accusation.
There have been other clashes in the waters, often related to claims of illegal fishing or violations of Chinese unilaterally imposed fishing moratoriums.
Vietnam and China each claim large parts of the South China Sea. The Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also maintain parts of the sea are theirs.
The countries have been in dispute with each other for years, but the profile of the issue has been raised in recent years because of China's economic and military growth and subsequent American interest. The Paracels, which were occupied by China shortly before the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, is a particular flashpoint.
China last year incorporated the Paracels and most of its other South China Sea claims within the newly declared Sansha city-level administrative unit as way of raising the region's profile and increasing funds for infrastructure and economic development.
China is also boosting its civilian fisheries and maritime surveillance patrols in the area. China's navy also conducts missions in the South China Sea, although it has sought to keep military units out of conflict zones to avoid elevating tensions.