Vietnamese rally again over islands disputed with China

http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5gVe4qhxFICVTkQuouKT2dEt-Yz4w 

HANOI (AFP) — Anti-China protesters Sunday rallied in Vietnam over disputed islands but were kept away by police from Bejing’s diplomatic missions after a protest last week sparked a rebuke from China.

Several hundred demonstrators in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City marched in the long-simmering dispute over the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos in the South China Sea, which are claimed by China, Vietnam and other regional countries.

Police prevented about 300 demonstrators in the capital and around 100 in the southern port city formerly called Saigon from protesting outside the embassy and consulate of Vietnam’s northern neighbour and communist ally.

Similar noisy but peaceful rallies on December 9, which supported Vietnam’s official territorial claims, were tolerated by police for about one hour, triggering a diplomatic protest from Beijing two days later.

“We are highly concerned over the matter,” said China’s foreign ministry after the first protest.

“We hope the Vietnamese government will take a responsible attitude and effective measures to stop this and prevent bilateral ties from being hurt.”

In the latest rally, groups of demonstrators marched through Hanoi, waving flags, shouting anti-China slogans and singing patriotic songs.

Most of the protesters wore identical T-shirts with the red-and-gold Vietnamese flag, a map of Vietnam that included the islands, and the words “China hegemony jeopardises Asia” and “Beware of the invasion.”

In Ho Chi Minh City around 100 demonstrators were rallying at a park near the Chinese consulate, holding up signs that read “Hands off Vietnam,” “Vietnam: United We Stand” and “Stop Chinese Expansion.”

The two archipelagos — called Truong Sa (Spratlys) and Hoang Sa (Paracels) in Vietnamese — are considered strategic outposts in the South China Sea, have potential oil and gas reserves and rich fishing grounds.

The Spratlys, more than 100 islets, reefs and atolls, are claimed in full or part by China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

The Paracels — which Chinese troops took from South Vietnamese forces in 1974 — are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.

The disputes stir strong passions in Vietnam, which remembers a millennium of Chinese rule and fought its last border war with China in 1979. A naval clash in 1998 near one of the Spratlys killed more than 50 Vietnamese sailors. The street protests started on December 9 after China set up a county-level government unit which covers 2.6 million square kilometres (1 million square miles), mostly ocean, including the disputed isles.

The issue has been hotly debated on blogs in Vietnam, and Vietnamese hackers have defaced at least one Chinese government website.

The islands have been flashpoints for years, and the number of disputes has risen as declining fish stocks have forced fishing crews from Vietnam and elsewhere to sail deeper into disputed waters.

In July a Chinese naval vessel fired at a Vietnamese fishing boat near the Spratlys, sinking the boat and killing one sailor, reports said.

Vietnam expert Carl Thayer said China was pursuing “a policy of creeping assertiveness” in the region, which conflicts with Vietnam’s maritime strategy of maximising the development of its offshore resources by 2020.

“Chinese naval vessels have reportedly fired on Vietnamese fishing boats,” said Thayer, of the Australian Defence Force Academy.

Beijing had also pressured oil company British Petroleum to stop developing an area off southern Vietnam, he said.

“China has the upper hand because it can threaten the interests of foreign companies who operate in both China and Vietnam,” he told AFP.

Thayer, a veteran Vietnam watcher, said public rallies in Vietnam critical of China are “unprecedented and may represent the first step in a prolonged information campaign to win over international sympathy and support.”

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Scorpions, not snakes, on a plane

http://www.etravelblackboard.com/index.asp?id=72562&nav=2

Several scorpions were found on a domestic Vietnam Airlines flight on Thursday, which caused the service to be delayed while the entire plane was inspected.

Luckily the Airbus A320 had yet to take off from Danang Airport when two scorpions in the passenger cabin were spotted by crew members.

The plane was immediately evacuated and a top to bottom inspection of the plane was undertaken, from where three more stragglers were found.

An official for the airline had commented, “We don’t yet know how the scorpions got on the plane.”

Some 170 people were safely evacuated off the plane, whereupon they had to wait four hours for the all clear by inspectors.

Eventually by 21:00, the plane was ready to depart for Hanoi, without any arachnid stowaways.

Investigations into the incident continue with one working theory that the scorpions were sneaked on by exotic creature smugglers.

Some economic engines that are driving Vietnam

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/12/16/INUMTSV3D.DTL

“Vietnam is one of the most compelling growth stories in the world.”

– John Engle, managing director of Singapore’s Blackhorse Asset Management, announcing a $400 million Vietnam investment fund last month

In addition to being the second-biggest source of Nikes (75 million pairs in 2006), Vietnam is the world’s largest exporter of cashews, the second-largest exporter of rice and coffee, and the fifth-largest shipbuilder. It also has a healthy share of higher-end garment production (Van Heusen, Perry Ellis, for example). Assuming the nation is able to address major shortcomings in areas such as skilled labor and management, roads, ports, electricity, education and agriculture, it looks to do even better, along with advances in tourism, airlines, steel and oil (in which San Ramon’s Chevron is a major player).

Two areas especially worth noting:

High tech. Vietnam boasts more than 18 million Internet subscribers, with cheap, if not always the smoothest Internet access, mostly in the cities. It is already getting some of the outsourcing action – from India, among others – but to bring more of its citizens into the high-tech age, the government, with the assistance of Intel and Microsoft, plans to subsidize some of Vietnam’s estimated 280,000 small private companies and 2.7 million family businesses with laptops and PCs. That is bound to please Hewlett Packard, which has been in Vietnam since 1996, cranking out PCs and printers via local subcontractors, and has seen its business double over last year, according to the head of HP’s Southeast Asia division. Last October, more HP inkjet printers started rolling off the line at a new factory – expandable to 120,000 square feet – in the Saigon Hi-Tech Park in Ho Chi Minh City. Meanwhile, Taiwan’s Foxconn is building a giant “electronic city” north of Hanoi, set to employ 300,000 people.

Then there’s “Line 6” at one of Nike’s subcontracted factories, which employs 20,000 people outside Ho Chi Minh City, and incidentally serves as Nike’s R&D world headquarters. The specialized production line is being used to perfect, on a much larger basis than currently exists, the digitally driven evolution of retailing, labeled “mass individual customization” in some quarters. My 10-year-old daughter, say, designs her own Nike online, clicks, and her design shows up on a terminal halfway around the world, where the desired shoe is manufactured and shipped directly to her door, or at least nearest Nike store. I haven’t told her about it yet.

“Viet Kieus.” Attracted by the growing economy, increasing numbers of the Vietnamese diaspora (an estimated 6 million Vietnamese live abroad, including more than 500,000 in California), are returning home with their skills and capital to open small and medium-size businesses – boutiques, online music services, bars, restaurants, office equipment franchises. Others are applying their Western know-how at Vietnamese corporations and local companies. “I have friends working in architecture, banking, oil, real estate – all from the U.S. or France,” said Nguyen Qui Duc, founder of KQED radio’s now defunct “Pacific Time,” who returned last year from San Francisco to live full-time in Hanoi. The Hanoi government is well aware of the Viet Kieus’ potential and, I was told, is working on a plan to grant them dual citizenship.

Vietnamese in second anti-China rally over disputed islands

http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,22932703-5005961,00.html

HUNDREDS of Vietnamese protesters again rallied peacefully against Beijing’s claims to two disputed South China Sea island chains, but were kept away by police from Chinese diplomatic missions.

About 300 demonstrators in the capital Hanoi and 100 in the southern hub of Ho Chi Minh City were prevented from rallying outside the embassy and consulate of Vietnam’s northern neighbour and communist ally by hundreds of police.

In Hanoi, security forces cordoned off the Lenin Park area near the embassy, where demonstrators one week earlier staged a rare hour-long protest over the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos that earned Hanoi a sharp rebuke from Beijing.

Instead, the groups of protesters, most of them students, marched through the centre of the capital, shouting anti-Chinese slogans and singing patriotic songs in the latest display of anger over the long-simmering dispute.

Most of the demonstrators wore identical T-shirts with the red-and-gold Vietnamese flag, a map of Vietnam that included the islands, and the words “China hegemony jeopardises Asia” and “Beware of the invasion”.

Another banner read: “We are small but not reconciled to China’s invasion.”

In Ho Chi Minh City around 100 student demonstrators were rallying at a park near the Chinese consulate, holding signs that read “Hands off Vietnam”, “Vietnam: United We Stand” and “Stop Chinese Expansion”.

The two archipelagos, considered strategic outposts in the South China Sea, have potential oil and gas reserves and rich fishing grounds.

The disputes stir strong passions in Vietnam, which remembers a millennium of Chinese rule and fought its last border war with China in 1979.

The Spratlys, more than 100 islets, reefs and atolls, are claimed in full or part by China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

The Paracels – which Chinese troops took from South Vietnamese forces in 1974 – are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.

The protest started December 9 after China set up a county level government unit which covers 2.6 million square kilometres, mostly ocean, including the disputed isles.

That rally, which supported Vietnam’s official stance, was tolerated by police for about one hour, a rarity in Vietnam, where public protests are usually suppressed quickly.

China protested the demonstration two days later.

“We are highly concerned over the matter,” said foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang at the time.

“We hope the Vietnamese Government will take a responsible attitude and effective measures to stop this and prevent bilateral ties from being hurt.”

Eighteen feared dead in Vietnam landslide

 http://www.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUSHAN323187

HANOI, Dec 15 (Reuters) – About 18 workers were feared killed in a landslide on Saturday at a stone mine near the construction site of a hydro power plant in central Vietnam, state media reported.

The landslide happened at about 0300 GMT in Tuong Duong district, Nghe An province, burying the workers, their trucks and drilling equipment under rock and clay, the e-newspaper Dan Tri (www.dantri.com.vn) reported.

Officials said explosives were used at the mine on Friday to help remove the stones from the mountain. The stones are used for the construction of the Ban Ve power plant project.

Rescue workers said it could take weeks to remove the rocks to get to the bodies, state media reported. Vietnam state television said no bodies had been found so far. (Reporting by Nguyen Nhat Lam; Editing by Stephen Weeks)

Helmets now mandatory in motorbike-crazy Vietnam

 http://www.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUSSP34262

HANOI, Dec 15 (Reuters) – Vietnamese motorcyclists appear to be complying with a new rule that gives them no choice but to wear a crash helmet, the latest drive to reduce the unacceptably high road traffic toll.

The millions of small, noisy motorbikes vrooming around city streets, often defying traffic laws, are symbols of the energy in the fast-emerging Southeast Asian market economy, but with severe costs in lives.

According to government estimates, up to 13,000 people are killed and more than 11,000 injured in traffic accidents every year. Half of all casualties are brain injuries.

“When suffering from cranial trauma, if not dead, most of them can no longer work,” said Dr Cao Doc Lap as he stood among beds of seriously injured patients at Hanoi’s Viet Duc hospital, where he is in charge of emergency care. “If the situation continues, then it will seriously affect our society.”

The sickening toll on the young labour force year after year seems finally to have spurred the communist government and the general public into action.

Helmets became mandatory on December 15.

And while citizens had largely ignored previous decrees and campaigns, this time there were visible signs in the teeming city streets that more Vietnamese were willing to don protective headgear they have often derided as “rice cookers”.

The central government’s Resolution 32 requires all motorbike riders and passengers to wear helmets on all roads across the nation of 85 million.

On Saturday, compliance was high in the capital, Hanoi, and in the commercial centre of Ho Chi Minh City. The few who were not wearing helmets were stopped and fined by police officers stationed at many intersections.

RICE-COOKERS

“We look kind of funny and silly with these rice cookers on our heads, but we can live with it. Everyone else is wearing a cooker too so no one can laugh at us,” Do Thu Thuy, a 25-year-old marketing executive told Reuters from the back seat of her boyfriend’s $5,000 Piaggio scooter in Hanoi.

“One good thing is that we do feel safer.”

Police may impose instant fines of 100,000 -200,000 dong ($6-$12)). In a country where corruption is rife and people often pay cash to police for traffic violations, officers must write tickets so the fines could be paid at a state treasury office.

Speaking days before the rule came into force, Lap said his hospital treated 50-70 traffic accident patients a day, most of working age and 30 percent aged between 18 and 25.

The hospital courtyard and corridors were packed with mostly poor people, some crying in grief.

“He was not wearing a helmet,” Hoang Thi Kim Chi, 23, said of her 17-year-old brother, unconscious for the past two weeks after crashing and cracking his skull. “He can’t open his eyes or recognise family members.”

Taking risks with road safety is a poverty trap in a country where the annual per capita income is still only about $835.

An accident that kills or seriously injures a breadwinner can send a family sliding back into destitution.

Vietnam, an overwhelmingly bicycle-pedalling society just 15 years ago, has motorised faster than many countries. There were fewer than 500,000 motorbikes in 1990 but now there are more than 22 million, increasing at 20 percent a year.

DARK SIDE?

“Maybe it’s the dark side of globalisation,” said American Greig Craft, founder of the Asia Injury Prevention Foundation.

“Investment is coming into these poor countries, which is a good thing but it’s leading to certain social things that people aren’t prepared for.”

Craft has promoted helmet safety campaigns in Vietnam for nearly 10 years. He also has a factory near Hanoi that manufactures lightweight helmets suited for the tropical climate.

Though many Vietnamese can afford cars these days, small motorbikes are the cheaper, preferred mode of transportation.

The streets and roads of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are choking on the success of an economy growing at more than 8 percent a year while infrastructure lags far behind.

Motorbikes, often seen carrying entire families of four or overloaded with produce and poultry, have also come to symbolise individual independence in an authoritarian state.

Helmets are generally considered unfashionable and inconvenient in a hot climate.

In one helmet shop last week, young men and women were trying on brightly coloured red, green, blue and pink helmets to find the best one to wear on Saturday.

The women gazed in the mirror, adjusted the helmets and fussed with their long, silky black hair.

“I don’t think a helmet affects my appearance,” said one smiling customer, Vu Thi Cham. “I am wearing a helmet but my hair is still beautiful.”

Helmets that have been tested for safety sell for between 149,000 and 215,000 dong ($9-$13) but some cheaper, poor-quality helmets made in neighbouring countries are also on sale. (Additional reporting by Nguyen Nhat Lam and Nguyen Van Vinh)