By Li Hongmei, Special to Sina English
Following the standoff between China and the Philippines over the Huangyan Island, the Nansha Islands have again turned out to be a flashpoint in the South China Sea with Chinese fishermen being expelled by Vietnamese authorities from their fishing grounds.
The move comes amid simmering tension between the two sides and with Beijing bidding for foreign cooperation to explore the oilfields in some of its offshore blocks, which Vietnam says is overlapping its territorial claim.
China Economic Weekly, a state periodical, cited an example of a Chinese fisherman surnamed Ye. He recounted what became of him and his fellow fishermen. According to Ye, the Vietnamese gunboats have been driving Chinese fishermen away from the waters around the Nanshas.
"We never knew that we had crossed the border," said Ye, "We only knew that we were still in Chinese territorial waters."
For Ye and his workmates, the waters around the Nanshas are seen as the fishing ground left to them by their ancestors.
"The only tactic we can use when spotting Vietnamese boats is to run," said Ye. "We never stop because we know more troubles will come if we are caught." Ye's boat and other two Chinese fishing vessels were caught by Vietnamese authorities in 2008, and they together were fined about 100,000 yuan (US$15,800).
Lately, China announced the establishment of Sansha City, an administrative region set up to oversee the three islands of Nasha, Xisha and Zhongsha.
Because of the ongoing disputes, a return of the US Navy to Vietnam's Cam Ranh Bay has become a distinct possibility after Leon Panetta, the US defense secretary, declared that 60% of America's naval power will be deployed to the Asia-Pacific region by 2020.
More ironically, the traditional hostility between the United States and Vietnam seems to be thawing in the face of China’s rise. And, to counter Chinese influence over the region, Hanoi can even open its door to an old foe. Is it an effect of “Stockholm Syndrome”, in which hostage would turn to have positive feelings towards his captor?