By Son Nguyen in HCMC
Vast areas of water surface in a bay in close proximity to Cam Ranh Military Base in Khanh Hoa Province become the hot topic in local media these days when it is unveiled that many Chinese have illegally farmed fish there for years without any intervention from State agencies. It is termed illegal because Chinese people with vast rafts for fish and lobster farming there do not have work permits, do not own business certificates, do not pay taxes, and do not even have residence approval in the locality. Even worse, the illegal presence of foreigners in the locality puts national defense and security at stake given the importance of the military facilities in the region. What makes it a grave concern is the loose management on the part of local State agencies that amounts to negligence.
The issue of illegal seafood farming, processing and trading by Chinese people stole the public limelight in late May when several newspapers rang the bell of alarm, which immediately captured attention from all walks of life.
As reported in Tuoi Tre, fish rafts are seen occupying a large swathe of the sea surface in Cam Ranh Bay. Big houses are erected on the fish rafts only some 200-250 meters east of Cam Ranh Port, from where people can see clearly Cam Ranh Military Base on the opposite side.
“Among Chinese people farming fish in the bay, there are some who have lived here for around ten years, some have stayed here a few years, and some who have just arrived,” the newspaper quotes a vendor at the entrance to Cam Ranh Port.
Ho Van Truyen, commander of Khanh Hoa Province’s Border Troops, asserts on Dan Viet that the military division has since 2009 reported the presence of Chinese traders in the region to provincial authorities. After that, the then vice chairman Nguyen Chien Thang, who is now head of the provincial government, instructed Cam Ranh District authorities to check and settle the issue, but this has been neglected ever since without any reason.
The news website Vietnamnet says Chinese people have for years imported breeder fish for farming without undergoing any quarantine checks, used animal medicines for treatment of the fish farms, collected fish from farmers, and shipped all back to China without fulfilling any procedures as per the law.
“The fact that Chinese people have farmed fish and lobster in Cam Ranh Bay close to the military base is a matter of grave concern,” says Tran Dinh Nha, vice chair of the Committee of National Defense and Security of the National Assembly (NA). Nha highlights in Sai Gon Tiep Thi the sensitive nature of the case, pinpointing the responsibility of many authorities, including the provincial government, border troops, and police. “The Law of Residence clearly specifies the coastal area as a border zone” that requires special attention, Nha says.
Tran Van Do, vice presiding judge of the People’s Supreme Court, bluntly says in the paper that “it is not just the huge responsibility of the lower execution agencies but also the role of the higher-ranking agencies responsible for supervision.”
Dinh Xuan Thao, head of the NA Institute for Legislation Study, stresses that it is unacceptable for Chinese people to farm fish inland without permission from authorities, especially for a location of great importance in terms of national defense and security like Cam Ranh.
In this case, Thao notes in Sai Gon Tiep Thi, there are violations of both security and economic natures that amounts to a criminal offense. “In a military zone like Cam Ranh, there must be no approval for fish farming, especially with foreign involvement,” he notes.
Nguyen Tan Tuan, a senior leader of Khanh Hoa Province, says on the sidelines of the ongoing NA sitting that “it is worrying and a big shortcoming regarding the fish farming in Cam Ranh by Chinese people,” according to Vnexpress. He says in the online paper that “this is a sensitive location. The provincial leadership is also responsible for such a shortcoming.”
Tough penalties have been imposed on the Chinese traders, including financial sanctions and deportation, according to local media. The problem is further aggravated when local media also reports a similar case in Phu Yen Province nearby, where “Chinese experts” are seen at fish farms in the waters under the management of a military unit. The difference, according to Vietnamnet, is that the fish farms have the business approval certificate from grassroots agencies, although such licensing is beyond their authority. Under the prevalent law, foreigners can only be allowed to farm fish in Vietnam in accordance with a government-to-government agreement, or in case such business is approved by a competent State agency, says Sai Gon Tiep Thi.
The public in the wake of the sensitive cases have voiced their indignation over the loose management.
A reader wonders in Sai Gon Tiep Thi how such foreigners can do business in Vietnam regardless of all the regulations. “In our home, under our sovereignty, it is unthinkable how they can behave like in their own yard.” Another questions why Chinese traders can drop anchor, purchase seafood and farm fish in a strategic location of great defense importance like that.
In Tuoi Tre, readers also voice similar concerns, calling for local authorities to attend to national benefits and to heighten alert in issues of national defense and security. A reader calls for authorities to cancel out all such fish farms to avoid grave consequences afterwards. There must be no troubled waters for foreigners to fish.
The Saigon Times Daily