Vietnam Breaks Up Anti-China Protests

As tensions continue to escalate over the South China Sea, AP reports Vietnam has broken up anti-China protests in two cities and has detained 20:

Police initially allowed about 200 protesters to march from Hanoi’s iconic Opera House through the streets, but after 30 minutes ordered them to disperse. When some continued, they pushed about 20 of them into a large bus which then drove quickly from the scene. It was unclear where they were taken, but in the past people detained at anti-China protests have been briefly held and released.

As foreign tourists and Sunday morning strollers looked on, protesters shouted “Down with China” and carried banners bearing the slogan “China’s military expansion threatens world peace and security.”

Using loudspeakers, authorities urged them to disperse and tried to reassure them.

“The Communist Party and government are resolutely determined to defend our country’s sovereignty and territory through peaceful means based on international law,” it said. “Your gathering causes disorder and affects the party’s and government’s foreign policy.”

These protests come amid Beijing’s call for Hanoi to halt oil exploration in the disputed waters. Aside from the protest in Hanoi, a smaller protest in Ho Chi Min city was also broken up by police, from AFP:

Activists at the scene told AFP that the 20 demonstrators were rounded up into a bus after the half-hour rally, the fifth such display of public discontent in Hanoi this year against Beijing’s perceived aggression in the sea.

The protestors were taken to Loc Ha detention centre on the outskirts of Hanoi, one activist told AFP on condition of anonymity. “I’m detained. And they’ve jammed my mobile phone,” the activist said via text message. They could not be reached for further questions.

Security forces also broke up a similar anti-China protest also attended by hundreds of people in the southern economic hub of Ho Chi Minh City, eyewitnesses told AFP, after Hanoi and Beijing traded barbs over the neighbours’ conflicting territorial claims.

The first demonstrations this year were allowed to go ahead, but in August Vietnamese police detained some 25 people at an anti-China rally who were later taken to a rehabilitation centre usually used to detain sex workers and drug users.

Although the demonstrations are not the first anti-China protests, the BBC’s Vietnam correspondent, Nga Pham, says it is the first protest in Ho Chi Min city in over a year, the BBC adds:

Public demonstrations are extremely rare in Vietnam, where the government makes social and political stability its top priority.

Police have been trying hard to prevent demonstrations, but this time it seems public anger was too great to suppress, our correspondent says.

According to the Global Times, the protests in Vietnam have been ‘misrepresented’ in Western media:

Vietnamese police dispersed anti-China protesters in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City on Sunday and 20 activists were reportedly detained. The protests, unsurprisingly, were painted by Western media as a manifestation of new “anger” of the Vietnamese public over the South China Sea dispute with China. According to their interpretation, in a nation where public demonstrations are strictly regulated, anti-China sentiments are just “too great to suppress.”

A closer examination of the protests shows this is not a convincing explanation. In Western reports, interviewed protesters vented their frustration with “government bans” on public expression, rather than anger toward China.

According to local scholars, it’s become increasingly clear since last summer’s anti-China demonstrations that most protesters are political dissidents who seek to undermine the government’s credibility and social stability under the guise of anti-China protests. Territorial disputes with China give these people a convenient excuse.

It is Vietnam that has stirred up the current tensions over its territorial disputes with China. Hanoi underestimated China’s determination and measures it has at its disposal to safeguard its sovereignty. Nevertheless, after this misjudgment, Hanoi found it hard to restrain domestic nationalist sentiment, which had been agitated, to an appropriate level. All these factors have undermined the cooperative relationship between Vietnam and China.

Read more about China’s relation with Vietnam and the South China Sea maritime disputes, via CDT.