In what may be a case of the abuser claiming to be the victim of abuse, Chinese diplomatic observers are claiming that Vietnamese fishing trawlers, some with armed militia, are entering into Chinese waters in the South China Sea.

A think tank at Peking University named the South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative, issued a report that between Jan. 19 and 31, about 34 Vietnamese fishing boats sailed near the island of Hainan with some entering a 12 nautical mile territorial limit.

The group of fishing vessels was described by the think tank as “gathered peculiarly” near the island that is the southernmost tip of China. Sanya is a major base for the Chinese Navy while Lingshui Li, an autonomous county to the east of Sanya, is used as a base from where China exerts its naval strength in the South China Sea.

The think tank report, relying on automatic identification system (AIS) data used for maritime monitoring, stated, “As it is known to all, there are a number of Chinese naval and airbases. It would make no economic sense for Vietnamese fishermen to go the extra distance to the east side of Hainan if simply to fish.”

Other voices from the Chinese Communist power offered their observations. Chen Xiangmiao, an associate researcher at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies in Hainan said, “In my observation, they do come for the fishing resources, but at the same time we do need to be aware that Vietnam has its own maritime militia on board fishing trawlers, which does not get much international attention. In fact, some of the Vietnamese vessels going there probably are just purely spy boats.”

He added, “Even with the help of satellite identification systems, they are often too small and dispersed for Chinese law enforcers to catch and expel.” He implied that information concerning the movements of China’s military vessels and aircraft could be obtained from a distance beyond the normal security zones.

The Chinese think tanks and other experts failed to mention how the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) has bullied into other South China Sea exclusive economic zones (EEZs) in recent years even sinking fishing boats from Vietnam and the Philippines along with other skirmishes with Indonesia. The issue is always over sovereignty in the oil and gas-rich waters.

China has also deployed fishing boats that work with the military to engage in confrontations with U.S. military vessels in other high-profile incidents.

The irony of Vietnam amassing boats for whatever purpose near Hainan is that there is no dispute that the sovereignty of the island belongs to China. This makes the “peculiar gathering” illegal unless Vietnam can come up with its own “Nine Dash Line” that China uses to claim its sovereignty over the entire South China Sea.