HANOI - Vietnam said it resolutely opposes a temporary Chinese ban on fishing in parts of the Gulf of Tonkin, the latest in a series of sovereignty disputes in and around the South China Sea.
China's move came as the two neighbours seek to patch up ties since a bilateral row erupted in May last year when China deployed a US$1-billion (S$1.3 billion) oil rig in waters claimed by Vietnam. That led to confrontation at sea between rival vessels and violent anti-Chinese protests in Vietnam.
The ban on all fishing activities between May 16 and August 1 violates international law and Vietnam's sovereignty and jurisdictional rights, the foreign ministry said in a statement posted on its website late on Saturday.
China launched the annual fishing ban in 1999 "to promote the sustainable development of the fishing industry in the South China Sea and protect the fundamental interests of fishermen", according to state news agency Xinhua.
Authorities have threatened violators with fines, licence revocations, confiscations and possible criminal charges.
China and Vietnam have overlapping claims to large parts of the South China Sea and various remote islands and reefs. Tensions rose in 2012 and 2014 after Beijing detained several Vietnamese fishermen for fishing in disputed waters. Both sides accused the other of intimidation and intentionally ramming rival vessels.
China's Foreign Ministry said on Monday that the rules are meant to protect marine resources in the area. "This is China's international responsibility and obligation," ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters.
On Sunday, China's Defence Minister Chang Wanquan told his Vietnamese counterpart Phung Quang Thanh that both countries have "the wisdom and capability to achieve success in tackling maritime issues", the state-run China Daily newspaper reported.
The meeting, the first between the two countries' defence ministers, took place in China's southwestern Yunnan province.
Beijing claims more than 90 per cent of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea, displaying its reach on official maps with a line that stretches deep into Southeast Asia.
It has recently stepped up its efforts to build up islands on shallow reefs in the disputed area.
Recently released satellite images show Vietnam has also carried out significant land reclamation at two sites in disputed waters, though the scale and pace of the work is dwarfed by that of China.
The Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have overlapping claims on the sea.