At least two travel companies in Vietnam are suspending tours to China and refusing Chinese customers as Vietnamese netizens intensified calls to rally over the weekend against Beijing’s territorial incursions in the South China Sea.
The planned rallies come after several recent incidents in which Chinese boats allegedly targeted Vietnamese vessels in disputed waters.
Canaan Tourist posted a notice on its website entitled “Information about the Suspension of Tours to China,” explaining that the move was prompted by China “increasingly invading Vietnam’s sovereignty."
“These incidents do not represent the will of the entire Chinese people, but in order to promote Vietnamese patriotism, Canaan is suspending all tours to China and removing all information about travel to China from our website,” the company said.
“We will restart tours and update information on our website whenever relations between our two countries improve.”
Canaan advised clients who would like to travel to China to choose another destination to visit.
Staff member Nguyen Tuan Kiet said in a phone interview from the company’s office in Ho Chi Minh City that Canaan suspended service to China because it faced alienating customers and losing profits.
“As you know from current news, a Chinese ship invaded Vietnamese waters and a Chinese naval ship fired at a Vietnamese fishing boat. My company’s actions would prove our patriotism,” he said.
Canaan organizes trips for several hundred Vietnamese tourists each year.
‘A political issue’
Meanwhile, another tourist agency which organizes tours within Vietnam for foreigners said it would no longer be accepting Chinese clients.
Con Dao Explorer, based in Ho Chi Minh City, posted a notice below information on its website about a three-day, two-night tour to Con Dao which read, “Attention: We will not accept tourists who bear Chinese citizenship.”
An assistant named Thuy who answered the phone at the company’s headquarters said the decision to refuse Chinese clients was related to the growing sense of indignation against the Chinese felt in Vietnam.
“Due to the fact that it’s related to politics, my company will not accept tourists who bear Chinese citizenship,” she said.
“If you call this discrimination, you would be wrong. My boss ordered us to do it. This is a political issue in Vietnam, so I cannot explain anything more than that.”
Anger over Chinese aggression in the South China Sea intensified recently as three Chinese boats were reported to have severed the survey cables of a vessel operated by PetroVietnam a week ago.
A Chinese boat is said to have harassed another survey vessel on Tuesday, and a Chinese naval ship on Wednesday reportedly opened fire at Vietnamese fishing boats near the Spratly Islands—to which both nations lay claim.
The Vietnamese government Thursday demanded that China stop preventing Vietnamese fishing boats from operating in waters off the Spratlys.
But China has defended the action of the Chinese boats and warned Vietnam against creating “new incidents” in the disputed seas.
Netizens are organizing peaceful rallies planned for Sunday at the Chinese embassy in Hanoi and the consulate in Ho Chi Minh City through social media, including Facebook, text messaging, and blogs.
If held, the rallies would represent the second in a rare expression of public outrage in Vietnam against Chinese belligerence in the South China Sea.
In 2007, hundreds of Vietnamese surrounded the Chinese embassy in Hanoi in support of their country’s claims to the uninhabited but potentially resource-rich Spratly and Paracel Islands.
Last year, Washington said it was willing to back smaller Asian nations who felt threatened by China as it pressed its sovereignty over the Spratlys and Paracels.
Washington is particularly concerned that China's increasingly assertive maritime ambitions could trigger conflicts in the region that could hurt access to one of the world's busiest commercial sea lanes.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has assured the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that Beijing is committed to implementing an agreed blueprint for managing their overlapping claims to ownership of the islands.
The Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, called DOC by diplomats, was inked in 2002 as a first step towards a binding code of conduct for Beijing and the 10-member ASEAN group, but the agreement has been gathering dust.
The reason: China has objected to a key component of a set of guidelines proposed by ASEAN for implementation of the agreement.
Four ASEAN claimants
China is against a paragraph that allows the four ASEAN claimants in the South China Sea—Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam—to hold informal consultations among themselves prior to an ASEAN-China meeting, officials said.
Beijing insists that the Spratly issue does not concern the four ASEAN claimants collectively, or ASEAN as a group.
ASEAN and China pledged in the DOC to resolve their sovereignty disputes in a peaceful manner, without resorting to the use of force.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam have separate claims over parts of the Spratlys, while China claims all of the Spratlys and adjacent waters as well as other islands further south of China's nine dotted dashes on its official map, which form a U shape reaching down to Indonesia's Natuna Sea.
The Paracel Islands, like the Spratlys further south, are also claimed by both China and Vietnam. In 1976, China invaded and captured the islands from Vietnam.
Reported by Mac Lam for RFA’s Vietnamese service. Translated by Hien Huynh. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.