Support for nationalist rallies against China in Vietnam’s two major metropolitan centers is heating up online in the wake of new naval incidents between the two countries in disputed waters.
On Thursday, netizens using social media, including Facebook, text messaging, and blogs, called for peaceful rallies to take place Sunday outside the Chinese embassy in the capital Hanoi and the consulate in Ho Chi Minh City.
Organizers suggested that people attending the rallies bring signs condemning “provocative” behavior by China in asserting its claims to the disputed Spratly and Paracel islands in the South China Sea.
The calls to rally come after Chinese boats allegedly harassed two Vietnamese survey vessels over the last week.
A man surnamed Bao, who lives in Ho Chi Minh City, said the planned demonstrations appeal to all segments of Vietnamese society, regardless of political background or age.
“It’s surprising that I received texts calling for the rally from a number of friends that aren’t even involved in politics. That is why I think the information about the rally is spreading so widely.”
He said that the rallies would also serve to bolster nationalism among the country’s youth.
“Even if the rallies don’t solve the Vietnam–China issue, it will make the world aware that the Vietnamese government has the true support of its people, and certainly of the youth … Gradually, patriotism will spread throughout the whole country.”
Duy Ngoc, a young blogger, said he had heard about the rallies via social networks and agreed that they would bring the Vietnamese people together to support the nation.
“I am planning on taking part this Sunday. I think this is about expressing your patriotism, no matter what your political views are.”
But others, like a resident of Ho Chi Minh City surnamed Hieu, were wary of the rallies, and said life in Vietnam is hard enough without getting involved in “sensitive” issues.
“I won’t participate in the peaceful rally because you have to avoid and ignore sensitive issues in order to make it easier to live in Vietnam.”
Rare public outrage
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.
Anger over the issue has intensified recently as three Chinese boats were reported to have severed the survey cables of a vessel operated by PetroVietnam a week ago and a Chinese boat is said to have harassed another survey vessel on Tuesday.
Chinese fishing boats have also allegedly been making incursions into Vietnamese territorial waters about 40 nautical miles off the coast of Da Nang province in central Vietnam.
China has defended the action of the Chinese boats in the latest incident and warned Vietnam against creating “new incidents” in the disputed seas.
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 had 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 and translated by Mai Lai for RFA’s Vietnamese service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.