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

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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

Vietnam: Authorities Bulldoze Building in Land Dispute

Compass Direct News

September 30, 2008

HANOI (Compass Direct News) – Authorities in Hanoi have responded to months of Catholic prayer vigils and demonstrations over disputed land by destroying the one-time residence of the papal nuncio in central Hanoi.

In suddenly bulldozing the land that once served as the Vatican embassy and residence near St. Joseph’s Cathedral last Friday (Sept. 19), the government broke its promise to Catholic leaders in February to negotiate a settlement concerning the property.

The destruction of the building held sacred by Catholics is the latest blow to Christians’ long struggle to get the government to return confiscated church properties. Catholic, Protestant and other religious leaders deemed the government response to peaceful Catholic pressure a serious setback for religious freedom.

Authorities cite Vietnamese law stipulating that lands subject to “land management and socialist land reform policies in place before 1991” cannot be considered.

On Monday (Sept. 22) the Vietnam News Agency reported that the Catholic Church ceded the Nha Chung Vatican Embassy property to the state in 1961 and that it would be turned into a library and park.

“Bookworms will soon be able to enjoy the facilities offered by a brand-new library, located at 42 Nha Chung Street, in Hoan Kiem District,” the state reported. “In addition to all of the services usually offered by a library, situated on the premises of an existing three-story, French-designed building surrounded by greenery and including a childrens’ playground, the renovation, which began last Friday, aims to better meet Hanoians’ demands for relaxation.”

Sources said Vietnam’s frequent pronouncements of new openness to religion, and the formation of a joint Catholic/government working committee regarding relationships with the Vatican and other outstanding matters, may have led Catholics to test the waters. Late last year Catholics began to hold prayer vigils outside the fence of the long-vacant Vatican Embassy seized by the government in the mid-1950s.

The historic building property on Nha Chung Street is adjacent to the Hanoi archbishop and cardinal’s residence and only a half block away from St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Hanoi’s Old Quarter.

The daily morning and evening prayer vigils began to draw large crowds, especially on Saturdays and Sundays, when thousands came to Masses at the cathedral. Authorities in a country where demonstrations are not allowed became seriously worried when warnings to stop went unheeded.

In discussion with Catholic leaders in late February, the government agreed to negotiate a settlement in good faith on the condition that Catholic leaders would call a halt to the prayer vigils. Archbishop of Hanoi Ngo Quang Kiet told Compass in April that after agreeing to a joint working committee, the government showed no sincerity in building relationships or in settling grievances.

In late August an aide to the archbishop told Compass in Hanoi that the twice daily prayer vigils had resumed. At that time about 100 people participated each time, but the number and intensity was growing. Catholic leaders made no secret of their appeal to prayer and assembled people as their only tools in their struggle with the government for redress on confiscated properties.

In recent weeks the Redemptorists at Thai Ha, also in Hanoi, also began prayer vigils to recover some of their large property. Over the years their part of an original plot of 60,000 square meters had been reduced by government confiscation to less than 2,000 square meters.

According to observers, the Catholics conducted themselves during their vigils with decorum and order as they reverently marched, prayed and sang. The government’s response however, quickly escalated from accusing the Catholics of interfering with traffic to accusing them of all night public disturbances – and then accusing Catholic leaders of inciting riots and breaking religion laws.

Catholic Leaders Warned

Authorities this week delivered a written warning to Archbishop Kiet warning him of “extreme action” if he did not stop the daily prayer vigils. They also issued a warning to four priests at a Hanoi church locked in the land dispute. The archbishop and priests are accused of “stirring the population” and encouraging illegal religious activity.

State and Hanoi city media releases and radio and TV coverage during September painted the Catholics in the worst possible light; sources said the media fabricated stories and paid people to speak against the Catholics. With no opportunity to make their side of the story known through Vietnam’s state-controlled media, Catholics are reporting events through VietCatholic News, Zenit and other overseas news sites.

Catholic calls for media to retract specific, demonstrably false stories and appeals to press laws have gone entirely unheeded. Rather, sources said, improbable accusations and vicious slander against Catholics sharply escalated.

Vietnam Cardinal Jean Baptiste Pham Minh Man, archbishop of Saigon, wrote a letter to all priests, religious and faithful on Monday (Sept. 22) denouncing the state’s media lies. Unrest is spreading throughout Vietnam’s Catholic community, believed to number more than 7 million, as the letter by the cardinal and others by bishops are read in the churches.

Thugs Bussed In

Demonstrations escalated this week with estimates of 7,000 to 10,000 people, including students gathered at Thai Ha on Wednesday night (Sept. 24). It was said to be the largest public demonstration since the Communist unification of Vietnam 33 years ago.

Wednesday afternoon (Sept. 24), hundreds of police and plainclothes officers tried to control an upset crowd of Catholics as a statue of the Virgin Mary was removed from the Vatican Embassy area under police protection and taken to an unknown location. The next day, sources said, authorities recruited gangs that included uniformed Communist youth league members and others and bussed them to the site, where they attacked Catholic protestors outside the archbishop’s residence.

Similar gangs destroyed property, including sacred items at Thai Ha, the same day.

The state media also announced that the 17,000-square meter Thai Ha Redemptorist property in Hanoi is also to be turned into a public park.

The reversion to old-style, default Communist repression involving violence cloaked in lies is also worrying to Vietnam’s Protestants, some of whom have joined Catholics in the prayer vigils.

Protestant leaders contacted by Compass were united in their disappointment in and condemnation of the government’s belligerent response to peaceful prayer vigils.

“Sadly, the government has again shown its true attitude toward religions,” said one Protestant leader. “We have doubted the sincerity of recent improvements, and now they have clearly shown everyone what is still in their hearts.”

Some Vietnam observers fear the government’s belligerence may be evidence of hard-liners’ ascendance in an ongoing struggle with more moderate reformers. The timing of this property destruction, some Vietnamese church leaders said, is calculated to take advantage of uncertainty in the United States, especially as elections draw near.

http://www.crosswalk.com/news/religiontoday/11582355/

Vietnam Shows ‘Disturbing’ Disregard for Human Rights, Says U.S. Agency

A U.S. government body denounced Vietnam this past week for what it described as the continuation of a “disturbing” disregard for basic human rights.

Sun, Sep. 28, 2008 Posted: 09:28 AM EDT


A U.S. government body denounced Vietnam this past week for what it described as the continuation of a “disturbing” disregard for basic human rights.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)’s comments come as police in Vietnam continue to inflict violence against protestors at peaceful vigils on properties formerly owned by the Catholic Church of Vietnam.

Also, authorities had arrested religious freedom advocates and detained pro-democracy activists earlier this month.

“Too often in Vietnam, individuals who peacefully organize and express views about religious freedom and human rights – and the freedoms required to protect them – are detained, arrested, or intimidated,” said USCIRF Commission Chair Felice D. Gaer.

“As a member of the U.N. Security Council, Vietnam should be upholding human rights fully and should not view peaceful actions to advance religious freedom as a security threat,” she stated.

Since December, Catholics in Hanoi have been holding prayer vigils at Catholic church properties to demand they be return to the Church. The properties were seized by the communist government in the mid-1950s.

There have been brief clashes with police, but over the past three weeks police have detained as many as eight protestors at a former monastery, according to reports. Security personnel also used batons to break up a silent vigil seeking the release of those arrested.

At least 12 people were briefly detained following the vigil and one priest had serious injuries.

USCIRF said it received “disturbing” reports of the Vietnamese government’s accusations against Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet, who it claims incited protests, and its threats to take “extreme actions” to end the peaceful vigils.

The U.S. agency in particular highlighted the case of Li Thi Cong Nhan, who met with USCIRF late last year.

“It is outrageous that Li Thi Cong Nhan was ever arrested in the first place, and that she hasn’t been released,” Gaer said. “She and all prisoners of concern in Vietnam should be released immediately, without conditions, and without the frequent follow-on sentence of house arrest that Vietnamese authorities use to restrict the freedom of rights advocates.”

The U.S. Commission calls on the State Department to re-designate Vietnam as one of the worst violators of religious freedom by labeling it a Country of Particular Concern, and to release unconditionally all prisoners of concern.

Ethan Cole
Christian Post Reporter

Vietnam Shows ‘Disturbing’ Disregard for Human Rights, Says U.S. Agency| Christianpost.com

Hanoi: Bishops, Clergy Face New Threats

Hanoi, Sep. 22, 2008 (CWNews.com) – The abrupt demolition of the building that once housed the office of the apostolic nuncio in Hanoi– a building that government officials had promised to return to the Church– has sparked angry protests from the Vietnamese hierarchy.

At the same time, a propaganda campaign against Catholic protesting the demolition, organized by the state-controlled media, has prompted further protests. Church-state tensions continue to escalate: bishops are threatened with arrest; Redemptorist priests at a parish involved in another property dispute have even been threatened with death.

The media in Hanoi have charged that Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet is inciting riots by expressing his support for demonstrated who opposed the demolition process. The media have consistently depicted the demonstrators as threats to public safety.

In a letter to the government leaders of Vietnam, Bishop Michael Hoang Duc Oanh of Kontum, warned that this campaign of vilification could have grave consequences. “Our people are gentle and kind, easy to forget the past and forgive those who trespass against them.” However “when they find themselves being tricked, pushed to the corner, and persecuted… they can accept even death.”

The bishop warned government officials that “numerous of the weak and the poor have pleaded for years for the requisition of their properties but all in vain, as the authorities do not listen but persecute them!” He pleaded the government recognizing the legitimate concerns of the protestors, and “stop using the media to silence them.”

From Thai Binh, Bishop Francis Nguyen Van Sang said his heart was broken to hear the news that the nunciature was being razed, and he “wished to be able to rush to Hanoi” to be with archbishop Joseph Ngo and his faithful in this time of ordeal– but health problems prevented him from traveling. And Bishop Joseph Dang Duc Ngan mourned the loss of “a souvenir of faith, a land stamped with the seal of the communion and love of the Catholic Church.”

The New Hanoi newspaper took a very different view. For the paper, the nunciature building is a symbol of Vatican, and its demolition is “a victory.” On Saturday, the paper could not hide its delight that a protest by Archbishop Ngo was in vain, saying that the prelate was acting “in desperate hope of finding a possible way to stop the demolition.” The resistance against demoliton, New Hanoi said, “goes against the will of the people.”

At the nunciature, construction workers worked throughout the night to demolish the building. Thousands of Catholics have protested around the clock.

Sunday morning saw the largest demonstration in the history of Vietnam since the Communist takeover, with hundreds of priests leading more than 10,000 Catholic protestors in a prayerful vigil outside the gate of the nunciature. Bishop Joseph Dang Duc Ngan of Lang Son lead the prayers, as police accompanied by attack dogs patrolled the fence lined with barbed wire that had been installed at the site.

The Federation of Vietnamese Catholic Mass Media issued a statement of “deep concerns about religious and human-rights violations against Catholics.” Citing the property disputes at the nunciature and at a Redemptorist monastery in Thai Ha parish, the group confessed: “We are at our wit’s end as the injustice being done to our brothers and sisters in Christ– to the unarmed, religious people whose only weapon to protect themselves and property has always been praying with an unshaken belief in God.”

Still the government’s anti-Catholic campaign continued. The Hanoi People’s Committee accused Hanoi’s Archbishop Ngo of “smearing the state,” and said that his statements “have angered the people of the capital.” Such behavior, the group said, “must be punished severely.”

As if on cue, a large crowd appeared at the Thai Ha parish on Sunday, throwing stones, smashing statues, and shouting threats against the Redemptorist priests. One of the priests observed that “everything happened clearly in front of a large number of officials– police, security personnel, anti-riot police… but they did nothing to protect us.”

Source: EWTN News

Vietnam warns priests over land

By Nga Pham
BBC News

The four priests are from the parish of Thai Ha in Hanoi (BBC News)

The four priests are from the parish of Thai Ha in Hanoi (BBC News)

Vietnam has issued an official warning to four top priests at a Hanoi church that has been embroiled in a bitter land dispute with the local government.

The move followed a similar warning sent a day earlier to the city’s archbishop, Ngo Quang Kiet, threatening to take legal action against him.

The archbishop and priests are accused of “stirring the population” and encouraging illegal religious activity.

Many Roman Catholics have been involved in prayer vigils over the issue.

The vigils have attracted a lot of attention from the public in Vietnam, as well as Vietnamese communities overseas.

Disputed land

The four priests who received the warning on Monday are from the Thai Ha church, which the authorities have decided to confiscate and transform into a park.

On Monday scores of people entered the disputed land and, after a short scuffle with believers holding a vigil there, drove them away.

Vietnamese state media said the newcomers represented “local people” who had sought to express their frustration at the Catholics’ illegal activities.

They said police were despatched immediately to the site to ensure that violence did not erupt.

But the church claimed that the mobs attacked the believers and ransacked Thai Ha parish’s property while the police looked on.

Meanwhile a stand-off continues at another disputed site in Nha Chung, central Hanoi. In a sudden move, the government began bulldozing the land last Friday for the construction of a park and a public library.

The Hanoi diocese wants the one-hectare plot, which once served as Vatican embassy and residence, to be returned.

But the government has refused, citing that historical claims of lands subject to “land management and socialist land reform policies in place before 1991” cannot be considered, according to Vietnamese law.

Mass prayers have been held since last December to protest against the policy.

The protests have put great pressure on the Hanoi government, which finds religious land disputes extremely difficult to deal with.

“If the government considered returning the lands to Thai Ha parish and the Hanoi Diocese, this would become an undesirable precedent for other Catholic organisations and individuals across the country. It would be extremely dangerous for the regime,” Nguyen Van Trung, a lawyer who has been involved in a number of land cases, told the BBC Vietnamese Service.

The authorities have resorted to the safer solution of turning both disputed sites into public parks “to serve the people’s interest”.

But at the moment it does not seem to have satisfied the Catholic protesters, who claim that the lands are sacred to them.

Source: BBC

Vietnam summons US journalist over protest coverage

A small group of Catholics pray at a makeshift shrine (AFP)

A small group of Catholics pray at a makeshift shrine (AFP)

HANOI (AFP) — Vietnam’s foreign ministry said Tuesday it had summoned a US journalist who says he was beaten by police over his coverage of ongoing protests by Catholics seeking a return of land seized in the 1950s.

The ministry confirmed press reports that it had summoned Associated Press journalist Ben Stocking on Monday, without specifying what was said or what additional action would be taken.

The AP has accused Vietnamese police of beating Stocking, the agency’s Hanoi bureau chief, as he tried to cover the start of construction Friday of a public park in Hanoi on land claimed by the Church, a move denounced by Catholics.

Police took Stocking’s camera and, when he asked for it back, hit him on the head with it and punched him, the AP said in a report datelined from Bangkok.

He then spent two and a half hours in a police station before being taken to a clinic where he received four stitches to close a head injury, the agency said.

Vietnam has denied the allegations, and accused Stocking of violating Vietnamese law by taking photographs in an off-limits zone.

The Vietnamese police daily, Cong An Nhan Dan, said Stocking had been summoned “to receive a warning,” adding that the ministry was contemplating further action.

The daily run by Vietnamese security forces, An Ninh Thu Do, carried the same report, adding that the foreign ministry had accused Stocking of slandering security forces by saying they had beaten him.

The US embassy in Vietnam said it had lodged a protest with the government over the incident at the construction site, where dozens of Catholic priests, monks and nuns had gathered.

On Tuesday, construction of the park continued behind security barriers covered with barbed wire. A few Catholics prayed at the site, but were left alone by security forces.

Source: AFP