Anti-China demonstrations in Vietnam intensified as several leading activists joined in on Sunday to defend Hanoi’s claims to disputed territory in the South China Sea.
Over 100 people gathered near the Chinese Embassy in the Vietnamese capital for the third round of rallies in as many weeks.
Protesters carried slogans such as “Down with China!” and “The Spratlys and Paracels belong to Vietnam,” referring to the island groups at the heart of a longstanding bilateral dispute.
Several prominent Vietnamese activists and intellectuals joined the demonstration, including Nguyen Quang A, founder of a think tank that was shut down, and Pham Hong Son, a pro-democracy activist.
Public demonstrations are rare in Vietnam and usually restricted by the government, but the authorities have allowed the anti-China protests to continue after two incidents in the past month involving clashes between Chinese and Vietnamese boats in the South China Sea.
Nguyen Thi Duong Ha, wife of an imprisoned dissident lawyer, told RFA while marching in Hanoi, “The authorities have not only allowed us to rally in Lenin Park, but they also do not do anything when we march along the street.“
The park under a statue of the Russian Communist revolutionary Lenin is across from the Chinese Embassy.
“When they do not beat the protesters, I think that the [government’s] policy appears to approve of the protesters,” she said.
“The onlookers also join in with us, so there are a number of people marching. They are very determined to protect Vietnam's islands,” she said.
Ha has been operating a law firm in Hanoi with her husband, Cu Huy Ha Vu, that took on cases that challenged the Communist Party. Vu was convicted earlier this year of conducting propaganda against the state.
Protesters spoke up against what they considered Chinese incursions in the Spratly (in Chinese, Nansha) and Paracel (in Chinese, Changsha).
“I protest against China, and for me and other people the nation is first and foremost. I myself and those around me are very indignant with China's behavior; we want the government to show their attitude more clearly," Ha said.
Prominent dissident Pham Hong Son, a doctor imprisoned in 2002 for four years for publishing pro-democracy articles online, said he saw security forces trying to stop someone from filming the event.
"One of the particular point I saw at this third anti-China protest in Hanoi was that one cameraman filmed the event and a security officer wanted to hold him; however, luckily the people present at the scene joined in to intervene and the security officer had to release the cameraman.”
“The protesters showed that they are very disciplined; if the authorities support them, the protest would be more efficient," he said.
On June 13, Vietnam held four hours of live-fire drills in the South China Sea and on Friday, China announced that it had also held similar exercises.
Vietnam has welcomed foreign involvement to resolve the rival claims to the potentially resource-rich waters.
On Friday, American and Vietnamese officials met in Washington for an annual political, security, and defense dialogue and called for all territorial disputes in the South China Sea to be resolved through a “collaborative, diplomatic process without coercion or the use of force.”
They also called for freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, which encompasses an area from the Singapore and Malacca straits to the Strait of Taiwan.
Aside from China and Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all claim territories in the South China Sea.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese service. Translated by An Nguyen. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.