14 March 2008
A protest against China’s military aggression in the South China Sea, characterized by its violent harassment of Vietnamese fishermen making a living on their own waters, is being planned by an internet based activist group Viet Will, for when the Olympic Torch passes through San Francisco on April 9th.
The group’s decision to hold a protest at the upcoming event is in direct response to host China’s politicization of the Olympic Games by capitalizing on the Olympic torch relay to make illegal claims on Vietnamese territories which it had seized by force and continues to control.
While the issue over China’s illegal seizure of Vietnam’s Paracel Islands in the South China Sea since 1974 has not been resolved, China aspires to utilize the Olympic Games as a front in order to publicize to the world its dominion over the Paracel Islands by including an enlarged and boxed off map of the archipelago in all of its torch route maps.
China has further tried to emphasize its contempt for Vietnam by forcing the Olympic torch to pass through the Paracel Islands on its way to Ho Chi Minh City on April 29th. Normal international protocol stipulates when the Olympic Games torch passes through a specific location in any particular country, permission needs to be granted from that country in order for this to occur.
In the case of the Paracel Islands, by taking advantage of the upper hand in its relationships with Vietnam, China has decided unilaterally to have the Olympic torch pass through the archipelago as a matter of national issue, despite the fact that Vietnam has never given up on its claim of rightful ownership of the islands. Historical and judicial evidence demonstrate that Vietnam’s claims are well-founded.
In reality, the Paracel Islands are very small. If the islands were depicted proportionally to the rest of the relay route map, they would not be visible at all. Still, the fact that China has magnified the islands and boxed them off on all its maps indicates its intent to make territorial claims and using the high profile Olympic Games as its built-in publicity vehicle, which smacks of politicizing the sports festival.
The organizers of the protest aims to demonstrate the theme of the Olympic torch relay “Journey of Harmony” is contrary to the reality of China’s actions in the South China Sea, where in the past several decades, China has been increasingly aggressive in making claims on Vietnamese territories via diplomatic coercion and outright military force.
In the process of trying to control the region, China has made the life of poor Vietnamese fishermen a nightmare by continually ordering its navy to hunt down, capture, extort money, shoot to injure and murder Vietnamese fishermen and sink Vietnamese fishing boats on the sea surrounding both the Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands, which China also partially controls as a result of military invasion in the 1980s and 1990s.
Countless families have lost loved ones their boats, their livelihoods and have gone bankrupt as a result of being attacked by the Chinese navy while trying to catch fish for a living on their own waters. Captured fishermen on the sea are forced to pay a monumental sum of $15,000 USD before being let go or they may face torture and execution.
The purpose of Viet Will’s protest is, firstly, to highlight China’s hypocrisy in taking advantage of the Olympic Games to make claims on Vietnam’s Paracel Islands, and of the sea waters around the Paracel and Spratly Islands.
Secondly, protestors seek to demand that China stop hunting down and murdering Vietnamese fishermen who are in their own waters as well as disputed waters, thereby preventing poor people from making an honest living.
Thirdly, protestors seek to demand that China respect the territorial integrity of its Southeast Asian neighbors (both land and sea) by giving up its unjustified claims on the Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands.
This is a political issue which could mushroom into a larger conflict in Southeast Asia. No neighboring nation is going to feel safe if China can bully its way into their territorial boundaries and take over at will. This has already happened in Tibet and Taiwan, and it is happening again. Attention must be brought to China’s dangerous and damaging legacy of arrogance, greed and murder. This rally held by Viet Will will amplify this matter at hand.