Vietnam Postpones Chinese Concert on Sensitive Anniversary

Anniversary of 1950 diplomatic relations coincides with 1974 Chinese seizure of islands from Vietnam.

Protesters in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi commemorate China's seizure of Paracel islets from Vietnam in 1974, Jan. 19, 2018.

Vietnam postponed a concert by a Chinese artistic group on Friday, the 68th anniversary of Chinese and Vietnamese diplomatic relations, citing an electrical issue. But some in Vietnam say the show was delayed for another delicate historic anniversary.

Vietnam and China established diplomatic relations on Jan. 18, 1950, but Jan. 19, 1974, was the date of a brief naval war afte which China seized the Paracel Islands from South Vietnam, killing more than 70 sailors from the South Vietnamese navy.

The Associated Press quoted Nguyen Thai Binh, a spokesman at the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, as saying said Friday’s performance by a group from China’s Inner Mongolia region was postponed because of an unexpected electrical problem at the Opera House in Hanoi.

"I think they postponed it because of the public pressure,” said scholar Dinh Kim Phuc, referring to a public campaign on Facebook and other social media against the concert on the sensitive date.

“Whether they like it or not, they have to accept that patriotism is still the number one priority. It is unacceptable to have that event organized on the date of a big loss for Vietnam,” said Phuc, who is based in Ho Chi Minh City and studies the South China Sea dispute.

Vietnam and China, along with the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan, are locked in overlapping territorial disputes over some or all of the Spratly and Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.

Phuc said a small rally was held to commemorate the loss of the Paracel islands to China in 1974, one year before South Vietnam was taken over by North Vietnam’s victorious communist forces.

"It was raining this morning, and some people who were placed under guard at home could not go, so there were only a few of us going to offer incense at the statue of Tran Hung Dao,” he said referring to a Vietnamese military strategist famed for fighting off Mongol invasion in the 13th century.

“We couldn’t have a big commemoration, like every year. However, there was no repression from the security forces, like what happened several times before,” he said.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Emily Peyman. Written in English by Paul Eckert.