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Asia-pacific

Vietnam clamps down on anti-China protests

© HOANG DINH NAM / AFP

Video by Claire WILLIAMS

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-05-18

Vietnamese authorities broke up small protests against China in two cities on Sunday, after deadly anti-China riots over a territorial dispute risked hurting the economy and caused China to evacuate thousands of citizens.

China, meanwhile, said it had dispatched the first of five ships to Vietnam to speed up the evacuation of any its citizens wanting to leave.

More than 3,000 Chinese have already been pulled out from Vietnam following the riots this past week that left two Chinese dead and injured about 100 others, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

China deployed an oil rig to a disputed patch of the South China Sea on May 1, triggering fury in Vietnam. Hanoi sent ships to confront the rig in a tense standoff with Chinese vessels. The breakdown in ties between the two countries is the most serious since 1979, when they fought a brief but bloody border war.

Vietnamese government changes direction

Last weekend, Vietnam allowed anti-China protests that drew thousands of people, a rare step widely seen as a way of amplifying state anger against Beijing. Doing so was risky for authorities: dissident groups joined in the protests, and public anger was such that violence was a possibility.

Vietnam’s government doesn’t allow basic political freedoms and routinely arrested free speech activists and others challenging one-party rule. Anti-China protests are one of the few opportunities for public gatherings in Vietnam and also attract dissident groups, who often claim Hanoi is too soft on Beijing.

Pham is a Vietnamese journalist based in Binh Duong, who spoke with FRANCE 24 last week.

“The state encourages these [anti-China] protests but only if they are state-regulated. If they aren’t, the protests are still considered illegal,” he said.

By Tuesday and Wednesday, the protests had morphed into riots targeting factories believed to be owned by Chinese companies. Many of those hit were Taiwanese.

The violence caused concern among foreign investors who have turned Vietnam into a manufacturing hub in recent years. China has loudly demanded Vietnam protect Chinese people inside the country. Many Chinese have left by commercial flights and across the land border into Cambodia, although violence has stopped since Wednesday.

Vietnam’s government has vowed to protect all foreign investors, including Chinese, and said it has arrested more than 1,000 people over the rioting. On Saturday, it said further protests would not be allowed, angering some activists.

“I want to send a message that if we don’t stop China today, tomorrow it will be too late,” said demonstrator Dao Minh Chu, as he was pushed away from the park near China’s embassy, where last week around 500 people gathered without interference from authorities. Last week’s protests were covered enthusiastically by state media, a clear sign of state sanction.

On Sunday, Vietnamese authorities in southern Ho Chi Minh City dragged away several demonstrators from a park in the city centre. In Hanoi, authorities closed off streets and a park close to the Chinese Embassy and pushed journalists and protesters away.

Several well-known activists said they had been prevented from leaving their homes to attend the rally.

“I think the best way is to allow people to protest,” said La Viet Dung, a frequent anti-China protester, adding that police visited him late Saturday asking him not to attend. “They say they are preventing people from protesting because they are worried about extremist actions and violence, but that is not logical.”

Other activists said that police had been posted outside their homes Sunday.

Rising tensions between neighbours

China is a vital economic trade partner for Vietnam, and business links have grown in recent years. While they share a political ideology and a commitment to authoritarianism, the two countries also have a long history of bad blood. Many Vietnamese harbour deep resentment over what they see as China’s bullying and economic exploitation.

They have often sparred over overlapping claims in the South China Sea, which is believed to have significant oil and gas deposits.

China has been much more assertive in pressing its territorial claims in recent years, often bringing into it into dispute with Vietnam and the Philippines. Spats have broken out over fishing rights and oil exploration missions in recent years, but the placement of the rig 220 kilometres (136 miles) off the coast of Vietnam was considered especially provocative.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

Date created : 2014-05-18

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