Tensions Rise Over South China Sea Islands

A war of words between China and Vietnam over a disputed chain of islands in the South China Sea has intensified, with Beijing's announcement that an anti-China protest in Hanoi had damaged bilateral ties.
2007-12-13
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HONG KONG—A war of words between China and Vietnam over a disputed chain of islands in the South China Sea has intensified, with Beijing’s announcement that an anti-China protest in Hanoi had damaged bilateral ties.

A witness in Hanoi sent to RFA this video footage of a rare public demonstration, last Sunday, near the Chinese Embassy.

“Things happened in Vietnam recently which damaged the relationship between the two countries,” foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters after the weekend demonstration outside the Chinese embassy in Hanoi and consulate in Ho Chi Minh City.

“We hope the Vietnam government takes effective measures to control the situation in order to avoid damaging the relationship,” he said.

Several hundred Vietnamese staged a rare public demonstration Sunday near the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi to protest China’s claim over the uninhabited but potentially resource-rich Spratly and Paracel islands.

China’s legislature recently ratified a plan to create a symbolic administrative region called Sansha to manage three archipelagos, including the Paracels and the Spratlys.

“We want to send a message first to China: that the Vietnamese people are brave and undaunted,” the event’s organizer, who declined to be identified, told RFA’s Vietnamese service.

Call for more information

We want to send a message first to China: that the Vietnamese people are brave and undaunted.

“Second, we want to tell our own government that it must share information with the Vietnamese people. We found out about this most recent dispute with China over the Spratlys and Paracels only through overseas media,” he said.

Nguyen Thanh Tai, leader of the Communist Party Youth League in Hanoi, met with protesters and told them that there was “no doubt” that the Spratlys and Paracels belonged to Vietnam.

“You have shown your heart to the country,” he told them, adding that he would order the Youth League to “form a group” to join with them in the demonstrations.

The protest sparked a flurry of online postings from visitors to RFA’s Vietnamese Web site.

“When will Vietnam, my homeland, have peace, and the Vietnamese people have freedom? When will China stop bullying Vietnam?” wrote a commentator identified as Tao Khang.

Another, called Long, said: “As China is invading Spratly and Paracel islands of Vietnam, [this] is the time when all Vietnamese should come together and fight against the invader.”

One commentator said the call to join the 9 a.m. protest outside the embassy had been sent around on the Skype online messaging service.

“As a Vietnamese, I would like to call on all Vietnamese from around the world, regardless of your age, religion, political opinion, education, or gender to come together to protect our homeland,” another person identified as Pham Hung Vy from Hanoi wrote.

The commentators were reacting to an interview on RFA’s Vietnamese service with a Vietnamese student.

The demonstrators, mostly university students, chanted “Down with China” and “Long Live Vietnam.” Police let the protest continue for about an hour before breaking it up.

The protesters were supporting the government’s position that Vietnam has sovereignty over the islands, a contentious issue between Vietnam and China for years.

The waters around the Spratlys, which are also claimed all or in part by Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei, are believed to hide large oil and natural gas reserves. They are strategically placed in major shipping lanes and contain rich fishing grounds.

Sino-Vietnamese ties have improved in recent years following a brief but brutal border war in 1979.

Original reporting in Vietnamese by Khanh Nguyen. Translated by Khiem Le and Khanh Nguyen. Additional reporting by Richard Finney. Vietnamese service director: Diem Nguyen. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written and produced for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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CH. 2: VIETNAMESE | BURMESE | KOREAN

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