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.

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.,8599,1891668,00.html

Vietnam suspends newspaper over China reporting

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Authorities in Vietnam have shut down a newspaper for three months over controversial articles on a territorial dispute with neighboring China, state media reported Thursday.

The Ministry of Information and Communication shut down the biweekly Du Lich (Tourism) for its “serious violation” of Vietnam’s press law, the Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper said.

Authorities accused the paper of publishing untruthful information as well as inciting violence and sowing hatred among nations, Thanh Nien said.

The report did not specify the information in question.

The shutdown took effect Tuesday, and the ministry also ordered the newspaper to reshuffle its leadership, Thanh Nien reported.

Communist Vietnam maintains strict control over all local media.

Ministry officials and newspaper executives were not available for comment Thursday.

In its Lunar New Year edition earlier this year, the newspaper ran a series of articles supporting anti-China protesters, praising them for their “pure patriotism.”

Thousands of demonstrators, mostly university students, gathered in late 2007 near the Chinese diplomatic missions in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to protest China’s policy toward three archipelagos in the South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands.

China had announced a plan to create a symbolic administrative region called Sansha to manage the disputed territory.

The largely uninhabited islands and surrounding waters are believed to have large oil and natural gas reserves. They straddle busy sea lanes and are rich fishing grounds.

Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei also claim sovereignty over all or some of the Spratlys.

Although Vietnam’s communist government opposes China’s policy in the Spratlys, it wants to maintain friendly relations with its powerful northern neighbor.

But the Spratlys issue has struck a nationalist chord in Vietnam, which has fought several wars against China. The protesters took to the streets even though Vietnam’s government generally prohibits public protests of any kind.

Vietnam paper banned over China

By Nga Pham
BBC News

A newspaper in Vietnam has been banned for three months for publishing controversial articles on China.

The Ministry of Information and Communication decided to suspend the Du lich (Tourism) bi-weekly for “serious violations of Vietnamese Press Law”.

In a rare display of patriotism, Du lich ran a number of articles on the subject of territorial disputes between Vietnam and China.

The offending articles were in the paper’s Lunar New Year issue.

A story written by Trung Bao praised the “courageous spirit” of those who participated in anti-China demonstrations in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh last year.

Thousands of people joined the protests against the Chinese government’s policies in the South China Sea.

The paper was accused of “writing untruthful information” and “inciting violence, causing hatred between nations” – charges that Du lich’s deputy editor-in-chief denied.

Nguyen Trung Dan told the BBC that the newspaper only reflected “the people’s wishes”.

“Being a Vietnamese, I did not think twice when I approved those articles. Isn’t it a good thing to encourage patriotism among the public?”

The Ministry of Information said it would consider reshuffling the paper’s editorial leadership in order to “improve its management”.

Vietnam and China raise flood toll

”]Flooding has caused power cuts and threatened to spread disease [EPA]Forecasters say that more torrential rain is expected to hit areas of south China and Vietnam where at least 150 people have been killed in the area’s worst flooding in several years.

In northern Vietnam at least 120 people are now confirmed to have died after floodwaters from southern China caused river levels to rise, further inundating a region lashed by heavy rains since Friday.

In China itself meanwhile state media reported that 26 people had been killed in mudslides in southwestern Yunnan province, while 45 others were still missing.

Overall at least 34 people have so far died in the flooding across southern China.

In Vietnam the government has warned that more downpours, flash floods and landslides could be in store in mountainous provinces in the country’s north-central region this week.

Vietnam, the world’s third-largest rice exporter, has not released any crop damage estimates in the northern Red River delta region, but the government said nearly 260,000 hectares of rice, corn, sugarcane and fruit had been submerged.

”]Large parts of Hanoi have been submerged in the flooding [Reuters]In the capital, Hanoi, schools stayed closed and many streets were still submerged on Tuesday.

Officials say at least 20 people have died in the city’s worst flooding in more than 20 years.

“This natural disaster is characterised as the largest ever in Hanoi,” Pham Quang Nghi, the chief of the Hanoi branch of the ruling Communist Party, was quoted by state media as saying at a meeting on Monday.

The national weather centre has also forecast more heavy rains over the weekend that could lead to higher water levels in the already-swollen Thai Binh river in the northern delta region.

Health ministry officials meanwhile have alerted clinics in flood-hit areas to prepare for disease outbreaks such as cholera or dengue as parts of Hanoi and 17 other provinces struggled with a shortage of fresh water and food.

State-run Voice of Vietnam radio said emergency supplies of instant noodles and rice were being distributed to flood victims in and around the capital.

Al Jazeera English – Asia-Pacific – Vietnam and China raise flood toll

Analysts hail China, Vietnam deal

A new deal between Vietnam and China to resolve land and sea borders has been hailed as a major step forward.

Analysts say the deal will help avert fresh conflict between the two sides.

The two powers agreed in Beijing over the weekend to finish demarcating their land border this year, and to solve a maritime territorial dispute.

China and Vietnam have a tense relationship. Most recent disputes centre on the right to exploit oil and gas resources.

Border progress

The weekend deal was signed in Beijing by the visiting Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

“The China-Vietnam joint declaration of October 2008 represents a very positive continuation of the process of confidence-building measures that has been under way for nearly a decade,” said Dr Carlyle Thayer, visiting fellow at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University.

“It highlights areas for future co-operation and significantly sets up a hot line so the two sides can deal promptly with incidents, such as armed clashes, that arise from time to time,” he told the BBC.

He said the agreement to finish the physical laying of boundary markers along the once-disputed 1,350 km (840 mile) land border was particularly important.

The agreement also offers a plan to demarcate the Gulf of Tonkin, establish a common fisheries area and conduct joint naval patrols from time to time.

The statement did not settle the issue of the Spratly Islands, a strategic string of rocky outcrops in the middle of the South China Sea claimed by several nations.

But China and Vietnam promised to “collaborate on oceanic research, environmental protection, meteorological and hydrological forecasts, oil exploration and information exchanges by the two armed forces,” China’s Xinhua news agency reported.

This builds on the resolution earlier this year of a potential conflict provoked by Vietnam’s publishing of a Maritime Strategy for the exploitation of maritime resources.

Past disputes

China and Vietnam have an uneasy relationship.

China supported the Vietnamese Communists during the Vietnam War, but Vietnam is wary of its huge northern neighbour and, after a brief but bloody 1979 border war, lost 70 men in a brief naval battle in 1988.

The two neighbours normalised relations in 1991.

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Analysts hail China, Vietnam deal

China, Vietnam pledge to settle disputed borders, boost trade

HANOI (AFP) — In a step to resolving long-running disputes, China and Vietnam have pledged to turn contentious border areas into economic growth zones and jointly explore oil-rich offshore areas in the future.

The communist neighbours — who stress their comradely ties but also have a history of distrust and conflict — reached the agreement during a visit by Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to Beijing, state media said.

Both countries are among claimants to the Spratly islands in the South China Sea, believed to be rich in oil and gas reserves, and claim sovereignty over the Paracel islands, which are occupied by China.

During Dung’s visit, which ended Sunday, Beijing and Hanoi “agreed to start a joint survey in the waters outside the mouth of Beibu Bay (Gulf of Tonkin) at an early date,” China’s state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

They would “gradually advance the negotiations on demarcation of these maritime zones and will jointly exploit the zones,” Xinhua said.

The statement did not settle the hot-button issue of the Spratlys, a strategic string of rocky outcrops in the middle of the South China Sea that are also claimed by Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.

But China and Vietnam pledged to “collaborate on oceanic research, environmental protection, meteorological and hydrological forecasts, oil exploration and information exchanges by the two armed forces.”

The agreement, although vague on details and timelines, signals a gradual shift in relations between East Asia’s economic giant and the southern neighbour which for many centuries was ruled by China.

The South China Sea dispute — in which Chinese naval vessels have in the past fired on Vietnamese fishing boats — has in particular stirred strong nationalistic sentiments and sparked anti-Beijing street protests in Vietnam.

“The China-Vietnam joint declaration is a major confidence building measure between two potential protagonists,” said veteran Vietnam-watcher Carl Thayer of the Australian Defence Force Academy.

“The agreement to begin work on demarcating waters outside the Tonkin Gulf will serve to reduce the area where clashes between fishermen and naval vessels are likely to occur,” he told AFP.

Earlier this year Beijing angered Hanoi when it reportedly warned US oil giant Exxon Mobil Corp that it would be barred from operating in China unless it pulled out of a joint exploration deal with Vietnam.

Last week Dung and his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao oversaw the signing of a strategic cooperation pact between state-run China National Offshore Oil Corp and PetroVietnam, reports said without giving further details.

Both countries also reaffirmed they would complete demarcation of their 1,350-kilometre (840-mile) land border on schedule by the end of this year.

As recently as 1979 China and Vietnam fought a brief border war in the mountainous region when China, having backed Hanoi during the Vietnam war, sought to punish Vietnam for ousting Cambodia’s China-backed Khmer Rouge.

Under both countries’ plans, Vietnam’s north is set to be transformed with industrial projects and new road and rail links that would connect China’s Yunnan and Guangxi provinces with Vietnam’s Haiphong seaport.

The ‘economic corridors’ — part of a web of highways linking China with Southeast Asia — would help boost annual two-way trade to a targeted 25 billion dollars by 2010 from 16 billion dollars last year.

Dung also visited China’s Hainan province and proposed closer shipping links with Vietnam. Other deals included a 200-million-dollar joint industrial zone in Haiphong and a light-rail project in the capital Hanoi.

Thayer said the agreement “to proceed positively in contentious areas is a positive contribution to peace and security in the region.”

“Both Premier Wen Jiabao and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung have demonstrated statesmanship in these troubled times by not letting the rancour of nationalism trump economic development,” he said.
AFP: China, Vietnam pledge to settle disputed borders, boost trade