Despite censors’ efforts, news of Chinese protests reach Vietnamese via social media

Authorities appear to be trying to avoid protests from catching on amid widespread discontent over bank scandal.
By RFA Vietnamese
2022.11.29
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Despite censors’ efforts, news of Chinese protests reach Vietnamese via social media Chinese citizens hold black sheets of white paper in protest against the government’s stringent zero-COVID policy, on a street in Shanghai, China, Nov. 27, 2022.
AFP

UPDATED at 12:15 P.M. ET on 2022-11-30

Despite the Vietnamese government’s attempts to restrict news about protests in neighboring China, videos and news of the demonstrations have spread among the public on social media, sources in the country tell Radio Free Asia. 

Facebook in Vietnam over the weekend was swarming with news, photos and videos of the protests. Citizens also read about the demonstrations on some foreign news sites, including Radio Free Asia, Voice of America and the BBC.

Ordinary Vietnamese aware of the protests speculated that authorities were trying to keep a tight lid on similar expressions of dissent from catching on in Vietnam, where authorities have come under fire for its handling of a recent banking scandal.

Hanoi probably also wants to avoid upsetting relations with China, a fellow Communist country and key trading and investment partner, sources said.

“Demonstrations in China would affect Vietnamese people’s thinking,” a Hanoi businessman who declined to give his name so he could speak freely, told Radio Free Asia. “They would encourage our people's aspiration towards a change, especially given that the Vietnamese government has shown its lack of determination in protecting people’s interests in recent scandals related to banks.”

Authorities may be nervous because in recent weeks Vietnamese have staged protests in some cities to demand payments from banks and securities firms after the arrests of real estate tycoons for alleged financial fraud.

Among major media organizations, only the Tuoi Tre online newspaper ran an article on Monday about international reaction to the protests in China. But the story was quickly removed, and an online search the following day indicated that the story was no longer available.

On Tuesday, the news website VietStock published a story about a drop in China’s stock markets due to concerns about the widespread demonstrations. But the article only provided a quick brief of the situation, saying, “Demonstrations were widespread over the weekend as residents in major cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, took to the street to protest China’s COVID control measures.”

Vietnamese censors also tried to control foreign press coverage of the protests in China. Coverage of the protests broadcast by CNN in Vietnam were replaced by a “weak signal” message on screen. 

Despite the close political and economic ties between the nations, many Vietnamese have mixed feelings about China. In 2018, Vietnam experienced widespread protests over a proposed law concerning special economic zones that would grant 99-year leases to foreign investors, which many feared would be snapped up by Chinese investors.

“While China is more totalitarian than Vietnam, its people still took to the streets to protest. Why don’t the Vietnamese people [do the same]?” asked a Vietnamese lawyer and social activist, who requested anonymity for safety reasons. 

Popular Facebook poster Duong Quoc Chinh, who has more than 65,000 followers, said blocking information such as that of the protests in China is no longer effective given the widespread use of social media in Vietnam. He suggested the Vietnam National Television cover the demonstrations.

 “Why do they block the news when this effort is useless?” he asked, adding that otherwise, people would think that the Vietnamese Communist Party had been directed by its Chinese counterpart.

Translated  by Anna Vu for RFA Vietnamese. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin. Edited by Malcolm Foster.

The story was updated to condense the original version.

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