Vietnamese protests fueled by distrust of government’s China policy

Vietnamese protests fueled by distrust of government’s China policy

Reuters

Protests by thousands of people in cities across Vietnam are showing just how easy it is to unite public opinion and mobilize dissent when an issue has one key ingredient: China.

The demonstrations, which are technically illegal, sprung up for a second consecutive week in late June 2018, stoked by fears that proposed coastal economic zones for foreigners would be beachheads for an invasion of Chinese businesses.

The proposal makes no mention of China. Political analysts, however, say Vietnamese minds were already made up with popular Facebook posts reinforcing deep-rooted suspicion that Chinese interests are influencing state policy.

Central to the issue is a combustible mix of generations of anger over perceived Chinese bullying and a lack of faith in Vietnam’s ruling communist party to do anything about it.

“The government underestimated the amount of anti-China sentiment in the country,” said Murray Hiebert, a Southeast Asia specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “There’s a constant undertone among many in Vietnam that the government isn’t doing enough to protect the country’s sovereignty against China,” Hiebert added.

Social media such as Facebook, used by half of Vietnam’s 90 million people, makes such fervor easy to stoke and hard to contain.

After protests spanned cities nationwide, the National Assembly recently postponed its vote on the economic zones until October 2018.

Security was tightened to prevent protests in major cities, but thousands still gathered in central Ha Tinh province, many with signs saying “No leasing land to Chinese communists for even one day.” (Pictured: Protesters in Hanoi, Vietnam, hold a banner in June 2018 that reads “No Leasing Land to China even for Anytime” during a demonstration against proposed economic zones.)

Tensions are likely to persist as long as China pushes its Belt and Road Initiative to advance its overseas business and takes stronger action to fortify its claims over almost the entire South China Sea.

China has been accelerating construction and militarization in the Spratly and Paracel islands claimed by Vietnam, and in March 2018, China pressured Hanoi to suspend some major offshore oil drilling for the second time in a year.

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