Some Vietnamese have criticized a speech by Chinese President Xi Jinping before the country’s parliament for not addressing the contentious issue concerning the territorial sovereignty of two sets of islands in the East China Sea, claimed by both nations.
Xi Jinping’s emphasized to lawmakers on Thursday the friendly relations between the two communist-led countries and urged them to promote common development.
China and Vietnam should “look to friendly negotiations to settle disputes in a friendly manner and prevent our relations from deviating from the mainstream,” he told lawmakers in Hanoi during his official two-day visit which ended Friday, but did not mention territorial tussles in the East China Sea, which Vietnam calls the East Sea.
Some Vietnamese were displeased with Xi avoiding any specific mention of the nations’ lengthy dispute over the sovereignty of the Paracel (in Vietnamese, Hoang Sa) and Spratly (Truong Sa) islands, where Chinese forces have attacked several Vietnamese fishing boats.
Last year, Vietnam vehemently opposed the stationing of a Chinese oil rig in disputed waters, which caused minor maritime confrontations and deadly rioting in Vietnam that targeted Chinese businesses.
“I see that his speech did not have an aggressive tone, but obviously he still does not recognize Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly islands, or at least admit that there is a dispute,” Catholic priest Le Ngoc Thanh from Ho Chi Minh City told RFA’s Vietnamese Service after reading reports about the address. “He only said things in a general way to fool the National Assembly.”
“I think his speech was not genuine, and he tried to avoid the one thing that all the National Assembly delegates wanted to hear about—the Spratly and Paracel islands,” he said.
Thanh accused Vietnamese lawmakers and National Assembly chairman Nguyen Sinh Hung of being passive and not commenting on Xi’s speech.
Hanoi’s state media had reported that Xi and Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang discussed the South China Sea issue candidly during meetings, although the public remained unaware of how candid they were, he said.
“In Vietnam, they [lawmakers and leaders] get paid with people’s taxes, so they are supposed to be ‘elected’ by the people,” Thanh said. “But they still look down on the people, thinking that they do not know anything, so that they don’t reveal the truth. Up until now, we still don’t know what they told China.”
Writer Vo Van Tao from Nha Trang told RFA that the public wanted to know what Xi Jinping would say about the South China Sea issue and how the National Assembly lawmakers would react after his speech.
“We wondered if he would say something like what he told the U.S. president — that China has core interests in the South China Sea,” he said, referring to a comment Xi made in September during an official visit to the U.S.
Because of the sensitivity of the comment, Tao surmised that both sides discussed the contents of Xi’s speech before he gave it, so as not to jeopardize the image of the friendly relationship between the two countries, he said.
“In fact, the 20-minute speech did not touch upon any disputes between the two countries in the South China Sea,” Tao said. “He only talked about mottos and being good neighbors, which we have been hearing for the past seven or eight years.”
But Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang told Xi that relations between the two countries had been reduced because of disagreements and disputes, Reuters reported, citing a statement by Vietnam’s foreign affairs ministry. Sang called on both nations to increase political trust and seek to satisfactorily resolve existing issues.
Peace at sea?
Xi wrapped up his visit on Friday with both sides pledging to maintain peace at sea and build up their mutual trust, just before Vietnam invited China’s nemesis Japan to participate in joint naval exercises and sail a warship into its base in Cam Ranh Bay, Reuters reported.
On the first day of Xi’s visit, dozens of activists had held rare demonstrations in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, resulting in a harsh crackdown by police who beat and detained them, sources told RFA.
Although protests are not the norm in one-party, communist Vietnam, the government has allowed controlled levels of dissent against China over sovereignty of the Paracel and Spratly islands.
On Wednesday, nongovernmental organizations in Hanoi held a seminar on Vietnam’s maritime sovereignty, while activists staged a demonstration in Ho Chi Minh City — each of which attracted around 100 people — although authorities did not intervene.
China claims sovereignty over the Paracels, which are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan, and has similarly claimed the Spratlys, which Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia consider part of their sovereign territory. The islands are located amid strategic shipping lanes, abundant fishing grounds, and oil and natural gas reserves.
Reported by Gia Minh for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.