China should take a diverse range of approaches, including hard-line ones, to maintain its interests in the South China Sea amid a string of disputes with neighboring countries, an analyst said Wednesday.
Chinese authorities are holding two Vietnamese boats and 21 fishermen who were detained while fishing near the Xisha Islands earlier this month, a Vietnamese official told AFP Wednesday.
The crew has been held in custody since, AFP reported, citing the official.
The captain told his family that China is demanding 70,000 yuan ($11,074) for their release, while Vietnamese officials advised the family not to pay and have asked Hanoi to press China for their release, according to the report.
China's foreign ministry told China Network Television Wednesday that they are looking into the matter, without offering details.
Du Jifeng, a researcher at the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that by holding the Vietnamese fishermen, China is sending a warning to those who illegally enter its territorial waters against the backdrop of frequent frictions in the area.
China claims indisputable sovereignty over the Xisha and Nansha Islands and their surrounding waters, but several countries in the region, including Vietnam and the Philippines, have made competing claims.
In February, Hanoi accused Beijing of preventing Vietnamese fishermen from entering waters near the Xisha and Nansha Islands.
On March 1, China's foreign ministry confirmed that they had expelled Vietnamese fishermen from the area, saying it was completely appropriate and legal.
In June last year, Vietnam held a live-fire naval drill in the South China Sea after Beijing accused Vietnamese ships of chasing down Chinese fishing boats near the Nansha Islands.
Internet users have been calling on the Chinese authorities to take a hard-line approach to protect the interests of Chinese fishermen.
"Some countries have held a hard-line position in dealing with such disputes. In this case, making a compromise is no longer in the interests of China, so we see a toughening of the position by Beijing," Du said.
Li Jie, a senior captain at the Chinese Naval Research Institute, admits that public opinion on the South China Sea may sway the government's handling of the disputes, but the policy on the issue will mainly be shaped by a comprehensive balancing of national interests.
Meanwhile, the nation is strengthening its supervision of the South China Sea.
According to the Xinhua News Agency, the South China Sea fleet of the country's Maritime Surveillance Force has completed its third mission aimed at ending illegal exploration of oil and gas.
During the mission, the fleet discovered 30 illegal oil and gas platforms, Xinhua said.
Du supported the regular patrol trips, noting that such actions help show its claims over the disputed waters.
"Besides a foreign policy regarding such disputes, regular patrols will help break the other parties' attempts to occupy such areas, and avoid the international community's misconception about the status of such disputed waters," Li noted.
According to Du, Beijing should further explore new methods to handle its disputes with other countries that have overlapping claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea.
"We could take different approaches in accordance with the changing situation. A hard-line position, compromises, as well as 'stick and carrot' approach should all be on the table to solve such disputes," Du said.
Yang Jingjie and agencies contributed to this story
South China Sea Conflict