Vietnam shuts down Web site in dispute with China

HANOI, Vietnam (AP): Vietnam has shut down a Web site it ran jointly with China, officials said Monday, as diplomatic tensions escalated over islands claimed by both countries.

The two sides created the Web site in 2006 amid great fanfare in order to promote bilateral trade. But it became embroiled in their dispute over the Paracel islands in the South China Sea, over which both countries claim sovereignty.

The dispute over the Web site began when China posted an article blasting Vietnam’s claim to the Paracels. The article was posted by the Chinese Ministry of Trade, which ran the site with Vietnam’s trade ministry.

The episode has aroused nationalist passions in Vietnam, which has fought several wars with neighboring China.

Monday’s edition of the Labor newspaper chided the Chinese statement, saying it was “untruthful, doing harm to Vietnam-China relations.”

The Web site was launched at a 2006 ceremony attended by Vietnamese Communist Party chief Nong Duc Manh, President Nguyen Minh Triet and Chinese President Hu Jintao, who was in Hanoi for a regional economic summit.

Tran Huu Linh, an official at the Vietnamese trade ministry, confirmed Monday that the Web site has been closed, but declined to give more details.

Officials at the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi could not be reached for comment.

The Paracel Islands consist of more than 30 islets, sandbanks or reefs over an area of nearly 6,000 square miles (15,000 square kilometers). The dispute over their ownership dates back several decades.

http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2009/5/18/apworld/20090518140443&sec=apworld

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In Vietnam, New Fears of a Chinese ‘Invasion’

By Martha Ann Overland / Hanoi Thursday, Apr. 16, 2009

Vietnamese workers walk along rubber trees in Vietnams Central Highland Gia Lai province in March 2006 Kham / Reuters

Vietnamese workers walk along rubber trees in Vietnam's Central Highland Gia Lai province in March 2006 Kham / Reuters


Thirty years ago, Vietnamese soldiers waged a final, furious battle in the hills of Lang Son near the country’s northern border to push back enemy troops. Both sides suffered horrific losses, but Vietnam eventually proclaimed victory. Decades later, diplomatic relations have been restored and the two nations, at least in public, call each other friend. Vietnam’s former foe is a major investor in the country, bilateral trade is at an all-time high, and tourists, not troops, are pouring in.

No, not Americans. Chinese. As part of an aggressive effort to expand its commercial and political influence in Southeast Asia, China is investing heavily in Vietnam. Chinese companies are now involved in myriad road projects, mining operations and power plants. Yet, despite the fact that cooperation between the two communist countries is being encouraged by Vietnam’s leaders, this friendly invasion does not sit well among a people who have been fighting off Chinese advances for more than a thousand years, most recently in 1979. Many in Vietnam worry that China is being handed the keys not just to their country’s natural resources but also to sensitive strategic areas, threatening the nation’s security. “The danger is that China has won most of the bids building electricity, cement and chemical plants,” warns Nguyen Van Thu, the chairman of Vietnam’s Association of Mechanical Industries. “They eat up everything and leave nothing.” (See pictures of the border war between China and Vietnam.)

Thu says he suspects some Chinese companies have won construction contracts by submitting lowball bids, which could mean they are cutting corners, threatening quality and safety. But Thu’s biggest concern is the influx of large numbers of Chinese workers, including cooks and cleaning staff, that are taking jobs from Vietnamese and threatening the country’s social stability. “Chinese contractors bring everything here, even the toilet seats!” declares Thu. “These are materials Vietnam can produce, and work that Vietnamese can do.”

The latest lightning rod for anti-Chinese sentiment is Hanoi’s plan to allow subsidiaries of the Aluminum Corporation of China (Chinalco) to mine bauxite ore in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. Bauxite is a key ingredient in aluminum, which China needs to fuel its construction industry. Vietnam has an estimated eight billion tons of high-quality bauxite, the third-largest reserves in the world. The environmental cost of extracting the mineral, however, can be high. Strip mining is efficient, but scars the land and bauxite processing releases a toxic red sludge that can seep into water supplies if not adequately contained. Several senior Vietnamese scientists as well as Vietnam’s burgeoning green movement have questioned the wisdom of giving mining rights to China, whose own mines were shut down because of the massive damage they caused to the environment.

But the real opposition appears to have less to do with the environment and more to do with Vietnam’s fear of its neighbor on the country’s northern border. Nationalist groups accuse Hanoi of caving in to pressure from commodities-hungry China by allowing the mining project to go forward. Bloggers are whipping up fears that the influx of Chinese workers is part of Beijing’s long-term strategy to occupy their country. Banned pro-democracy groups, which are happy for any opportunity to criticize the authoritarian government, call the mining venture an “ill-begotten scheme.” Earlier this month, a dissident Buddhist monk, Thich Quang Do, said that strip mining will destroy the way of life of the region’s ethnic minorities. He added that the project created “an illustration of Vietnam’s dependence on China.” There has been no such outcry against U.S. aluminum giant Alcoa’s plans to mine two sites in Dak Nong province in the Central Highlands.

Perhaps the most unexpected criticism has come from General Vo Nguyen Giap, a revered Vietnamese military leader who helped defeat the French and later the Americans. In a letter to Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, the 97-year-old war hero voiced concern over the presence of large numbers of Chinese in the Central Highlands, which is a strategic gateway to Vietnam, one where battles have been won and lost.

Other countries in the region are made uneasy by China’s thirst for resources. Last month, the Australian government rejected a $1.8 billion bid by Chinese mining company Minmetals to acquire debt-ridden OZ Minerals, the world’s second-biggest zinc miner, due to national security concerns. OZ Minerals has operations near Australia’s Woomera weapons testing site.

The Hanoi government says it is listening to concerns but it appears to be unmoved. Dung recently declared bauxite mining a “major policy of the party and the state.” Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai reaffirmed the government’s support, and several local provincial officials were on hand at a recent mining conference to defend the project, arguing that despite the presence of the Chinese workers, development will benefit the impoverished ethnic minorities who live in the region.

The pressure on Vietnam to proceed as planned is enormous, says Carl A. Thayer, a Vietnam expert who teaches at the University of New South Wales’ Australian Defense Force Academy. Vietnam needs to trade with China, the world’s third-largest economy, to survive. Thayer acknowledges that no Chinese company operates independently of the government. “If you go up far enough you will find a military or a security connection,” he says. “But Chinese occupation? I don’t believe that.”

Some of the problems are of Vietnam’s own making, observes Thayer. The country has become increasingly dependent on foreign direct investment to buoy its economy. Last year, overseas investors sunk a record $11.5 billion into Vietnam. China last year had 73 investment projects worth $334 million in the country. But in the wake of the global recession, foreign direct investment plummeted 70% in the first quarter of 2009 compared to the same time period last year.

Hanoi has been calling for increased investment, and is even more desperate for external cash infusions now that its economy has flatlined. Vietnam has also racked up a massive trade deficit with China. As more Chinese companies venture across the border and sink millions into new investment projects, Hanoi can’t dictate all the terms. Nor can they just close the spigot. “The Vietnamese have to be careful of what they wish for,” says Thayer.

http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1891668,00.html

Vietnam court convicts Catholics in land dispute

Eight Vietnamese Catholics, standing, go on trial Monday, Dec. 8, 2008, for allegedly disturbing public order and damaging property during a series of prayer vigils held last year as part of a campaign to get back confiscated church land. (AP Photo/Vietnam News Agency, Thong Nhat)

Eight Vietnamese Catholics, standing, go on trial Monday, Dec. 8, 2008, for allegedly disturbing public order and damaging property during a series of prayer vigils held last year as part of a campaign to get back confiscated church land. (AP Photo/Vietnam News Agency, Thong Nhat)

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — A Vietnamese court convicted eight Catholics on Monday on charges of disturbing public order and damaging property during a series of prayer vigils to get back confiscated church land, but gave them light sentences.

One defendant received a warning while the others were given suspended sentences ranging from 12 to 15 months. They received up to two years of probation and were sent home.

The mostly peaceful but illegal vigils were a bold step in a country where church-state relations are often tense and the government frowns on public protests of any kind. The dispute did not focus on religious freedom but on a parcel of land worth millions of dollars.

Catholics and their supporters pray outside the Dong Da district court in Hanoi, Vietnam, Monday, Dec. 8, 2008, during a trial. Several hundred Catholics gathered outside the courthouse Monday morning to support eight Vietnamese Catholics who went on trial Monday on charges of disturbing public order and damaging property while holding prayer vigils to demand the return of confiscated church land. (AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki)

Catholics and their supporters pray outside the Dong Da district court in Hanoi, Vietnam, Monday, Dec. 8, 2008, during a trial. Several hundred Catholics gathered outside the courthouse Monday morning to support eight Vietnamese Catholics who went on trial Monday on charges of disturbing public order and damaging property while holding prayer vigils to demand the return of confiscated church land. (AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki)

Hundreds of Catholics, many carrying pictures of the Virgin Mary, cheered as the defendants emerged from the Donga Da district court. Some raised one of the defendants over their heads in jubilation, while others chanted “Innocent! Innocent!”

Scores of riot police stood guard around the building during the verdict, but no clashes were reported.

As he left the court, defendant Nguyen Dac Hung, 31, said he would appeal his 12-month suspended sentence. “I’m totally innocent,” he said. “This is an unjust verdict.”

While they decried the verdicts, Catholics were relieved by the light sentences. The defendants could have received up to seven years in prison.

“The authorities made a concession to the struggles of our Catholic brothers and sisters,” said Le Quang Uy, a Catholic who came to show his support. “This is our victory.”

The defendants were arrested several months ago during a series of prayer vigils held to demand the return of the land near the Thai Ha church.

Hundreds of Catholics gathered at the site for several weeks. They knocked down a section of the wall surrounding the land, set up an altar and a statue of the Virgin Mary on the site and prayed for its return.

During Monday’s trial, the defendants maintained their innocence, saying they had peacefully sought the return of church land.

“Peaceful vigils cannot be illegal,” said defendant Nguyen Thi Viet, 59. “We did not disturb public order. We did nothing wrong.”

Hanoi authorities say the Thai Ha church and its surrounding land belong to the city. They say a former parish priest signed papers turning the property over to Hanoi in 1962.

Church members insist they have documents verifying their claim on the property.

Property laws are complex in Vietnam, where Communist authorities seized buildings and land from wealthy landowners, churches and other groups after taking power. Such properties were used by the state or redistributed to veterans or others who helped bring the Communists to power.

Earlier this year, Catholics also held vigils at a second valuable parcel of land in central Hanoi, the site of the former Vatican embassy in Vietnam, which closed after the Communist government took power in 1954.

A woman pray in front of Vietnamese police officers outside the Dong Da district court in Hanoi, Vietnam, Monday, Dec. 8, 2008, during a trial. Several hundred Catholics gathered outside the courthouse Monday morning to support eight Vietnamese Catholics who went on trial Monday on charges of disturbing public order and damaging property while holding prayer vigils to demand the return of confiscated church land. (AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki)

A woman pray in front of Vietnamese police officers outside the Dong Da district court in Hanoi, Vietnam, Monday, Dec. 8, 2008, during a trial. Several hundred Catholics gathered outside the courthouse Monday morning to support eight Vietnamese Catholics who went on trial Monday on charges of disturbing public order and damaging property while holding prayer vigils to demand the return of confiscated church land. (AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki)

In each case, the Catholics began their demonstrations after hearing rumors the government planned to sell the properties to developers.

As the conflicts escalated, the government announced it would convert each site into a public park and open a library at the former Vatican site.

With more than 6 million followers, Catholicism is the second most popular religion after Buddhism in the country of 86 million. Masses at Catholic churches around the country are heavily attended.

Vietnam has often come under international criticism for its record on religious and human rights. But in recent years, relations between Catholics and the government have begun to improve, emboldening church members to assert themselves more.

Vietnam and the Vatican have been discussing the possibility of re-establishing diplomatic relations.

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5hFaNWDuuQ4A1hcYeEtbf3GoGu5AwD94UG40G2

Catholic protesters face court in Vietnam

A Catholic church in Vietnam where eight Catholics have gone on trial on public order charges

A Catholic church in Vietnam where eight Catholics have gone on trial on public order charges

HANOI (AFP) — Eight Vietnamese Catholics went on trial Monday charged with disturbing public order and destroying property in the communist country during rallies over a land dispute.

The defendants were among thousands who joined prayer vigils and peaceful rallies over the past year in the capital Hanoi demanding the return of Catholic church land seized by the state half a century ago.

The eight defendants — four men and four women — are accused of causing public disorder and destroying property, charges that each carry up to seven years’ jail, at the height of the demonstrations in August.

To back the state’s case, prosecutors in court showed video footage of Catholic protesters tearing down part of a brick wall around a disputed parcel of land adjacent to the Thai Ha Redemptorist parish.

Catholics hold a vigil outside a court in Hanoi where eight of their religious group have gone on trial

Catholics hold a vigil outside a court in Hanoi where eight of their religious group have gone on trial

Most church lands and many other buildings and farms were taken over by the state after communists took power in North Vietnam in 1954. The disputed Tai Ha property was used by a state textile factory that has since been demolished.

The Tai Ha property and another disputed plot of land in the centre of Hanoi — the site of the former Vatican embassy adjacent to the main St Joseph’s Cathedral — were turned into public parks in recent months.

Several of the defendants in Monday’s hearing acknowleged taking part in some of the unauthorised mass meetings held since before Christmas 2007, but they told the court they were doing so to protect church property.

“I know for sure the land belongs to the church,” said 54-year-old Ngo Thi Dung, one of two women who has been held in detention for several months.

The other female detainee, Nguyen Thi Nhi, 46, admitted displaying posters and using a musical gong in the rallies, saying she also tried “to protect the land of the church.”

Also on trial but earlier released on bail were two more women — Nguyen Thi Viet, 59, and Le Thi Hoi, 61 — and four men — Le Quang Kien, 63, Pham Chi Nang, 50, Ngyen Dac Hung, 31, and Thai Thanh Hai, 21.

Hoi denied causing public disorder, saying “when we pray, we are quiet.”

Catholics hold a vigil outside court in Hanoi where eight of their religious group have gone on trial

Catholics hold a vigil outside court in Hanoi where eight of their religious group have gone on trial

Access to Monday’s hearing was restricted by officials who cited the small size of the courtroom in the Dong Da local government building.

Four foreign diplomats and two journalists for foreign news organisations were allowed to follow the hearing via closed-circuit television.

Vietnam’s tightly controlled media has largely ignored the trial.

Thousands of Catholics in parishes across Vietnam, including southern Ho Chi Minh City, have held prayers and vigils to support the defendants, said the online Catholic news service vietcatholic.net.

More than 500 Catholic faithful, including priests holding religious icons, held a vigil and sang hymns outside the government building where the trial was being held, watched over by riot police and plain-clothed officers.

“We came here to ask for justice,” said one supporter in the crowd, 67-year-old Nguyen Thi Hoa. “The Catholic detainees are all innocent.”

Another Catholic, holding up a picture of the Virgin Mary, said “the charges are groundless because these people only protected the land of the church. They did not commit any violence against the authorities.”

Vietnam, a former French colony and a unified communist country since the war ended in 1975, has Southeast Asia’s largest Catholic community after the Philippines — at least six million out of a population of 86 million.

http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5i_XFM25iyhj70czxNIb48vCxWegQ

Vietnam Catholics protest at land dispute trial

HANOI (Reuters) – Hundreds of Vietnamese police and riot police sealed off streets leading to a government building on Monday as eight Catholics went on trial over their attempt to claim a plot of disputed land in the capital.

More than 1,000 Vietnamese Catholics turned up at the People’s Committee offices in a Hanoi district to protest against the trial, a rare expression of dissent against the southeast Asian country’s ruling Communist Party.

In a peaceful demonstration, the Catholics sang hymns and held up banners demanding justice for the eight, whose court appearance is the latest twist in a dispute that has been rumbling on for months.

The piece of land in question is owned by a garment company but the protesters argue it is church land.

In August, state television showed pictures of people using hoes and hammers to break what it said was a section of the brick wall surrounding the plot, leading to police claims of “causing public disorder” and “intentional destruction of property.”

“They’re trying these eight people to send a message to the rest,” one of the protesters told Reuters, asking not to be named for fear of recrimination.

Religion remains under state supervision in the mostly Buddhist country, although Vietnam has the second largest Catholic community in Southeast Asia after the Philippines, with about 6 million among the 86.5 million population.

The Hanoi government is working toward establishing formal diplomatic relations with the Vatican, and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung visited the Pope there a year ago.

(Reporting by John Ruwitch; Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Alan Raybould)

http://www.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUSTRE4B70Q720081208

Vietnamese Catholics on trial in land dispute case

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Eight Vietnamese Catholics went on trial Monday on charges of disturbing public order and damaging property while holding prayer vigils to demand the return of confiscated church land.

The Catholics are accused of knocking down a brick wall surrounding property near the Thai Ha church in Hanoi’s Dong Da district during several weeks of prayer vigils late last summer. They face up to seven years in prison.

Several hundred Catholics gathered outside the Dong Da district court Monday morning, displaying pictures of the Virgin Mary. Scores of riot police stood guard around the building, but no clashes were reported.

As testimony began Monday, defendant Nguyen Thi Nhi, 46, said church members held the vigils to “protect the prestige and property of the church.”

Property laws are complex in Vietnam, where communist authorities seized buildings and acreage from wealthy landowners, churches and other groups since taking power in 1954. Such properties were used by the state or redistributed to veterans or others who helped bring the communists to power.

Hanoi authorities, who have since turned the property into a public park, say the Thai Ha church and its surrounding land belong to the city.

The church claims it has documents verifying its claim. The city claims a former parish priest signed papers turning the property over to Hanoi in 1962.

With more than 6 million followers, Catholicism is the second most popular religion after Buddhism in the nation of 86 million.

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5hFaNWDuuQ4A1hcYeEtbf3GoGu5AwD94U9UC80

Border disputes discussed as Vietnam premier visits China

Hanoi – Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung met with Chinese leaders Wednesday in Beijing to discuss borders and seek to strengthen often-strained ties with China, government officials said. Dung, his wife and a high-ranking government delegation arrived in Beijing Tuesday for his first official visit to China and the seventh Asia-Europe Meeting, which is to be held Friday and Saturday.

Bui Hong Phuc, a former ambassador to China, said the purpose of the visit was to sign an agreement to finish land border demarcation.

Dung also discussed with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao how to deal with Vietnam and China’s dispute over the Spratly and Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, Phuc said.

Unlike Communist Party chief Nong Duc Manh and President Nguyen Minh Triet, Dung chose the United States for his first outbound trip to boost trade and investment with Vietnam’s former enemy on the battlefield. Trade with the US accounts for up to 20 per cent of the country’s exports while the China market takes 15 per cent.

Last year, Vietnam-China trade increased to more than 15 billion dollars and was expected to hit 21 billion dollars this year.

But Vietnam continues to run a trade deficit with China, which climbed to 3.8 billion dollars in 2006 and 9 billion dollars in 2007. It was predicted to reach 13 billion dollars in 2008.

Vietnam has a close but sometimes strained relationship with its fellow Communist neighbour. China backed Hanoi during its fight for independence and its war with the United States in the 1960s and ’70s, but the two countries fought a bloody border war in 1979 and broke off diplomatic relations until 1991.

The two countries continue to dispute the ownership of the Spratly and Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, whose surrounding waters might contain substantial oil deposits.

Vietnam has sought to balance its relationship with China by cultivating close relations with the US, with which it ran a 12-billion-dollar trade surplus in 2007.

Sources close to the US government said they expected Dung’s trip to show progress on hot-button issues between the two Asian countries and that they welcomed such progress.

A former senior US official on South-East Asia said he expected the visit to focus on improving trade and economic relations, “an important point given the fairly lopsided imbalance of trade.”

Hurdles remain in Hanoi’s relations with both countries, including differences on human rights and democracy with the United States and land and sea borders with China.

Border disputes discussed as Vietnam premier visits China : Asia World