Beijing dismisses online threats
South China Morning Post
September 5, 2008
Greg Torode and Shi Jiangtao
Vietnam has formally protested to China over so-called “invasion plans” appearing on mainland websites that purport to detail the complete military occupation of the country by China.
Hanoi has twice summoned senior Chinese diplomats to voice its concerns over the material which, while unsourced and apparently unofficial, has alarmed diplomatic and military elites in the Vietnamese capital after appearing repeatedly over the past month.
The supposed plans detail a 31-day invasion, starting with five days of missile strikes from land, sea and air and climaxing in an invasion involving 310,000 troops sweeping into Vietnam from Yunnan, Guangxi and the South China Sea. The electronic jamming of Vietnamese command and communications centres is mentioned, along with the blocking of sea lanes in the South China Sea.
“Vietnam is a major threat to the safety of Chinese territories, and the biggest obstacle to the peaceful emergence of China,” the plans posted on Sina.com and at least three other websites say.
“Also, Vietnam is the strategic hub of the whole of Southeast Asia. Vietnam has to be conquered first if Southeast Asia is to be under [China’s] control again.”
“From all perspectives, Vietnam is a piece of bone hard to be swallowed.”
In a statement to the South China Morning Post, Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Dung confirmed Beijing officials had been asked “to act so that such negative articles will not appear again since these may be harmful to bilateral relations”.
“This is irrelevant information which goes against the trend of peace, friendship and co-operation for development in the region and the world and is not in the interests of the fine relationship existing between Vietnam and China,” Mr Dung said.
He added that China acknowledged Vietnam’s request and “stated that the article did not reflect the position of the government of China”.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman in Beijing, meanwhile, said the “different voices” on the internet represented individual acts “by only a handful of people, which by no means represented China’s stance”.
“The Chinese government attaches importance to the development of Sino-Vietnamese relations and is actively committed to strengthening publicity of the Sino-Vietnamese friendship,” he said.
Vietnamese government sources said they were perplexed that articles remained online, as they believed China actively policed the content of mainland sites.
Many officials believe the articles may have been sparked by rising tensions over the disputed South China Sea, where Beijing has recently been trying to pressure international oil firms into pulling out of their exploration contracts with Vietnam.
The Post reported in July that Chinese envoys had warned ExxonMobil – the world’s largest oil firm – that its future mainland business could be at risk unless it pulled out of deals in Vietnam’s southern and central oil fields. ExxonMobil executives say Vietnam’s legal position is strong.
Song Xiaojun, a Beijing-based military expert, described the internet-based plans, one of which was subtitled “One battle to set the region in order”, as a joke.
“It is, at most, a game by a few military amateurs and it has no military value at all,” he said.
He said there were still some people in both countries who could not forget the nations’ old animosities.
“China and Vietnam have similar political systems and should unite to counter the US, which is the common enemy for both countries,” he said. “Clearly the US tries to play Vietnam off against the rising China.”
Mr Song described US company ExxonMobil’s oil exploration work in the South China Sea as provocative.
“We should be on the alert for possible conspiracy theories behind the so-called invasion plan and other provocative stuff. Sensible people in both countries are well aware that China has no reason to think of invading Vietnam as it needs to make good friends with its neighbours.”
He said the mainland government should also learn a lesson from the issue.
“Authorities should be responsible to guide public opinion towards other countries and make its own stance on confusing issues clear and understood. The government should not leave any chances for troublemakers and harmful speculations.”
Carl Thayer, a veteran Vietnamese military analyst at the Australian National University, said it was unthinkable that China
would consider such an invasion in the modern regional context, but he warned that the case highlighted the potential for “extreme nationalism” on both sides.
“It may well become part of a tit-for-tat trend. China objects to anti-Beijing protests in Hanoi and then Vietnam feels it must react to something like this,” Dr Thayer said.
Current Vietnamese military strategy has long been geared towards deterring China from backing its territorial claims by force, he said.
China is Vietnam’s biggest source of imports and both governments have worked to rebuild ties in recent years, despite lingering tensions after the brief but bloody border conflict of 1979.
As well as deepening fraternal ties between communist party leaders, both sides have made progress in solving disputes over the 1,400km land border and the Gulf of Tonkin. Rival claims to the potentially oil-rich grounds beneath the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea remain a key point of friction, however.