World News

China frees Vietnamese fishermen as ministers meet

HANOI (Reuters) - China has released nine Vietnamese fishermen it detained near disputed islands, an issue which had threatened to raise tensions during a regional meeting of defence ministers in Hanoi.

“I am happy to report to you that China has freed our nine fishermen,” Vietnam’s Defence Minister Phung Quang Thanh told reporters on Tuesday, on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific defence ministers’ meeting that included China’s Liang Guanglie.

The fishermen were detained in the disputed Paracel archipelago in the South China Sea, and their boat impounded on September 11. Vietnam’s state news agency reported last week that the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry had asked for their unconditional, immediate release.

The detention of the fishermen was the latest row involving China over disputed islands in the region, many of them home to rich fishing grounds and potential oil and gas fields.

China reacted angrily when Japan detained a Chinese boat and crew in early September for allegedly ramming Japanese patrol boats near islands in the East China Sea which both countries claim. Japan released the crew and then the captain after coming under heavy pressure and threats from China.

Reporting by John Ruwitch; Editing by Jonathan Thatcher