Wave of Repression Blankets Vietnam

Viet Tan (Vietnam Reform Party)
With members inside Vietnam and around the world,
Viet Tan aims to establish democracy and reform the country through peaceful means.

September 10, 2008
Contact: Duy Hoang +1 (202) 470-1678

Communist authorities in Vietnam have arrested several democracy activists in the middle of the night and placed many others under house arrest. These actions come amidst the sentencing of a prominent blogger and appearances of large banners in urban areas calling for multi-party democracy and leaflets protesting the government’s territorial concessions to China.

· On September 10, shortly before midnight, about a dozen security police raided the home of Pham Van Troi in Hanoi. Troi, a member of the Committee for Human Rights in Vietnam, was arrested according to his wife. At the same time, police in Hai Phong surrounded the home of writer Nguyen Xuan Nghia, a leader of the Bloc 8406, and seized him. A third democracy activist, Pham Thanh Nghien, reported that her home in Hai Phong was surrounded overnight by police. Other confirmed arrests last evening include university student Ngo Quynh and poet Tran Duc Thach.

· Earlier in the day, in a closed-door trial in Saigon, authorities sentenced blogger Nguyen Van Hai (known by his pen name Dieu Cay) to 30 months in prison for tax evasion. However, everything about the case—how Dieu Cay was secretly arrested, his five months in prison without family visit, the government’s refusal to allow attorneys of his choice to represent him—indicates that the case was politically motivated. Dieu Cay wrote about Hanoi’s territorial concessions to Beijing. He had called for demonstrations against the Olympic torch relay in Saigon on April 29 when he was arrested.

· Friends of Dieu Cay were summoned to police stations this week or isolated at home to prevent them from trying to attend the trial. Currently, bloggers Uyen Vu, Ta Phong Tan, Trang Dem, Thien Sau and Song Chi and attorneys Le Tran Luat and Phan Thanh Hai remain under house arrest or tight police surveillance.

Hanoi authorities appear nervous before the 50th anniversary of a diplomatic note by former North Vietnamese prime minister Pham Van Dong recognizing China’s claims over islands historically belonging to Vietnam. Fifty Vietnamese citizens have initiated a petition campaign calling on the Hanoi government to nullify the September 14, 1958 diplomatic note. Recently, leaflets have been distributed at universities calling for protests outside the Chinese embassy on September 14th.

The government is also contending with the peaceful protest by thousands of Catholics for the return of confiscated church property. The protest of Thai Ha parish is entering its third week. Even though authorities have detained some protestors and used tear gas against crowds, the prayer vigils continue.

As American Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte visits Vietnam this week, the Hanoi leadership is trying to project a business as usual appearance while its security police is sweeping up dissidents throughout the country.


Uncomfortable anniversary in Vietnam

By Duy Hoang

Generations of French school children grew up learning never to forget Alsace-Lorraine, territory that France lost to Prussia in the war of 1871. Chinese students launched a protest movement in 1919 when the Treaty of Versailles gave the Shandong Peninsula – the birthplace of Confucius – to Japan.

To many Vietnamese today, the Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelagos off the eastern coast of Vietnam evoke the same sort of homeland emotions. These island chains, whose ownership is contested by multiple countries but occupied mainly by China and Vietnam, have been claimed by Vietnamese imperial dynasties going back centuries.

They straddle strategic sea lanes in the South China Sea and are believed to contain significant oil and gas deposits. Recently, China’s renewed assertion of sovereignty over the entire South China Sea – waters between Vietnam and the Philippines and stretching down to Indonesia – have enflamed nationalist passions in Vietnam. At the same time, Hanoi’s muted reaction to Beijing’s stance stirred popular outrage at home and across the diaspora.

While all Vietnamese, including the ruling communists, are keenly aware of centuries of domination by their big northern neighbor, the Hanoi regime is conflicted in how to deal with Beijing. It relies on China for political support, photocopying Beijing’s model of open economics and closed politics. It is reluctant to openly criticize China, fearing that to criticize China is to condemn itself.

For a party that came to power in the name of national independence, the perceived legitimacy of the Vietnamese Communist Party might evaporate if people realize how it has put the interest of the regime before that of the nation. In a culture where history matters, there are three important approaching anniversaries that worry Vietnam’s communist leaders.

Disgraceful concession
Fifty years ago, the People’s Republic of China issued a declaration essentially claiming the entire South China Sea as an inland lake. Within days, on September 14, 1958, prime minister Pham Van Dong of North Vietnam sent a diplomatic note to his counterpart Chou En-lai, acknowledging China’s claim. The motivation of the Hanoi communists was simple: they needed China’s military support in the war against the US-backed South Vietnam.

However, the Hanoi communists had given away what wasn’t theirs to give. The Geneva Accords of 1954 divided Vietnam at the 17th parallel. Both the Paracels and Spratly are located below the 17th parallel and legally belonged to South Vietnam. To this day, Beijing uses the Pham Van Dong note to support its claims over the islands. This document, which never had any legal force, is listed on the website of China’s Foreign Ministry under a section titled “International recognition of China’s sovereignty over the Nansha [Spratly] Islands”.

As the 50-year anniversary of the Pham Van Dong concession approaches, activists in Vietnam are demanding that the Hanoi government officially recall the diplomatic note. This is a public discussion that authorities would rather not have and it remains to be seen what the official reaction will be. If the leadership ignores or, even worse, represses these demands, it will confirm a growing view that the Hanoi communists were complicit in ceding Vietnamese islands to China.

In November 2007, China formalized its annexation of the Paracels and Spratlys by incorporating the two archipelagoes into a newly formed administrative unit (known as “Tam Sa”) governed out of Hainan province. When this decision became known, Vietnamese students and bloggers organized unprecedented protests outside Chinese diplomatic offices in Hanoi and Saigon. These protests lasted two consecutive weekends until Vietnamese security police harassed and detained many of the organizers.

As the one-year anniversary of the Tam Sa incorporation arrives, Vietnamese youth may again take to the streets. This time, will the government shut down blogs and imprison people for asserting Vietnam’s territorial sovereignty? In the last year, Hanoi has become a member of the United Nations Security Council. Many are questioning whether Hanoi will use its lofty post to advocate for an international settlement of the South China Sea dispute.

Toward the end of the Vietnam War, China took advantage of South Vietnam’s weakening military position by attacking the Paracel Islands, which were garrisoned by Vietnamese troops. In the naval battle of January 19, 1974, and subsequent Chinese amphibious landings, 53 Vietnamese sailors and soldiers lost their lives defending the islands. The Saigon government protested the unprovoked invasion, while the Hanoi government expressed support for China’s moves against what it called “American puppets”.

Now, almost 35 years later, as the old propaganda fades away, a fair assessment of history reveals an inconvenient truth for the Hanoi communist leadership. During the most difficult days of the country’s civil war, the Southern side which the communists always vilified, valiantly fought to hold on to part of the fatherland. This is in contrast to the short-sighted Northern side which welcomed the Chinese occupation of the Paracels for its near-term war aims.

By Vietnamese custom, ancestors and national heroes are venerated. Some 35 years after the Battle of the Paracel Islands, bloggers and historians in Vietnam are beginning to revisit the history. This creates another dilemma for the regime: will it prevent citizens from publicly discussing the past? How will authorities react to remembrance ceremonies for the 53 Vietnamese sailors and soldiers who died in battle?

Two conflicts, one solution
There are really two brewing conflicts arising from the disputed islands in the South China Sea. The first conflict is between China, Vietnam and other countries with a stake in the outcome.

Beijing’s thirst for energy supplies and desire for global prominence has led to an increasingly aggressive stance, threatening freedom of navigation, fishing rights and contracts for energy exploration. The issue of the South China Sea needs to be elevated to regional and international fora where a peaceful resolution acceptable to all parties can be achieved.

The second conflict is between Vietnam’s rulers and its people. Because the interests of the two are not necessarily aligned, how Hanoi and many Vietnamese people want to address the issue differs. As on the international level, there needs to be a free and open discussion within Vietnam regarding the history of the Paracels and Spratlys and on ways to resolve Vietnam’s claims.

The matter of these islands can be explosive, and the Hanoi leadership knows it. During a meeting this summer, the Communist Party’s Central Committee discussed the growing dissatisfaction among students and intellectuals with how the government was responding to Chinese aggressiveness, and came up with no remedies.

The solution to the South China Sea problem is open, frank dialogue on the international level and within Vietnam. The Hanoi regime must be willing to raise the matter in international fora and the Vietnamese people must have the right to freely express their views on this issue of national importance.

The failure of the Communist Party to defend Vietnam’s territorial sovereignty and its insistence on repressing domestic expressions of patriotism call into question the very legitimacy of its rule.

Duy Hoang is a US-based leader of Viet Tan, a pro-democracy, unsanctioned political party active in Vietnam.

Source: Asia Times Online

Vietnam protests planned Taiwanese Spratlys visit

Hanoi – Vietnam’s government has asked Taiwan to call off a planned inspection tour of the disputed Spratly Islands, one of two archipelagos in the South China sea claimed by several countries in the region, local press reported Tuesday.

‘Vietnam resolutely objects to all activities violating its sovereignty over the two archipelagos,’ government spokesman Le Dung said.

Taiwanese Defence Minister Tsai Ming-hsien was scheduled to visit the Spratlys on Monday before postponing the trip due to bad weather.

Vietnam, Taiwan, China, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei each claim all or part of the Spratlys and the nearby Paracels, and all but Brunei have a military presence on one or more of the atolls. Taiwan has built an airstrip on the largest of the islands, while Vietnam has stationed sailors on another.

The waters around the islands are believed to contain substantial petroleum reserves.

Conflict over the islands began heating up in November, when China established a new government district, called Sansha, to administer them. Vietnam officially protested the Chinese move, and Vietnamese students staged rare spontaneous protests in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City asserting Vietnamese sovereignty.

To avoid military clashes in the region, China, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand signed the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

The declaration commits the parties to resolving the islands’ status through negotiations, and provides for freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

Taiwan is not a signatory to the declaration because China regards Taiwan as a breakaway province and has barred Taiwan from attending official meetings on the Spratlys.


Trouble and Strife in the South China Sea: Vietnam and China

A source of serious interstate tension between some members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China for much of the 1990s, territorial disputes in the South China Sea became less contentious in the early 2000s: A less assertive stance by China being a critical component in Beijing’s Southeast Asian “smile diplomacy,” a diplomatic offensive designed to assuage the ASEAN countries’ security concerns vis-à-vis a rising China. Recent controversies, however, have underscored the seemingly intractable nature of the dispute and the continued sensitivity over sovereignty issues, particularly between the main protagonists: Vietnam, China, and the Philippines. In the first part of a two-part series, this article examines the impact of the dispute on Vietnam’s relations with the PRC.

Among the 10 members of ASEAN, Vietnam’s relationship with the PRC is without question the most complicated, multifarious, tense, and conflict-prone. From Vietnam’s perspective, it is also the most laden by historical baggage. Two millennia of Chinese overlordship—first as a formal part of the Chinese empire from the first century BC to 938 AD, then as a tributary state until 1885—combined with an intense relationship over the past 60 years characterized by extremes of amity and enmity, have shaped Vietnam’s China psyche to be almost schizophrenic. There is respect, even admiration, for Chinese culture, system of governance and economic reform on the one hand, coexisting with deep resentment, bordering on hatred, of Chinese condescension, bullying, and perceived attempts to control its political destiny. China’s perception of its southern neighbor is equally conflicted: A tenacious fighter of colonialism worthy of massive Chinese support from 1949 until the early 1970s, but a devious, unfilial “puppet” of the USSR during the 1980s.

In 1991, after more than a decade of hostility—the low point of which was a short but intense border conflict in 1979 following Hanoi’s occupation of China’s ally Cambodia—Vietnam and the PRC normalized relations.

Chinese forces enter Vietnam in the 1979 border war

Since then, bilateral relations have broadened, deepened and improved to an extent few would have predicted. Today, bilateral relations are guided by the official mantra of “long-term stability, orientation toward the future, good neighborliness and friendship, and all round cooperation” in the spirit of “good neighbors, good friends, good comrades, and good partners.”

Vietnamese Pres. Nguyen Ming Triet and Chinese President Hu Jintao affirm relations in 2005

Political relations have been buttressed by the regular exchange of high-level delegations, while economic ties have burgeoned. The value of two-way trade has risen from almost nothing in 1991 to $15 billion in 2007, making China Vietnam’s largest overall trade partner (Xinhua News Agency, January 23). For Vietnam though, this has been a mixed blessing: As cheap Chinese-manufactured goods have flooded the Vietnamese market, its trade deficit with the PRC has ballooned, reaching $2.87 billion by 2005; expanded cross-border trade has also led to an increase in counterfeit goods, smuggling, and illegal trafficking in people and narcotics; and the Vietnamese are continually disappointed at the low level of Chinese investment.

Since 1991 bilateral relations have been dominated by three sets of territorial issues: Demarcation of the 850-mile land boundary, delineation of the Gulf of Tonkin, and overlapping sovereignty claims in the South China Sea, particularly the Paracel and Spratly Islands. It is important to stress, however, that early on in the post-normalization phase of the relationship the Vietnamese and Chinese governments determined not to let such problems fetter the development of bilateral ties, and to that end agreed to norms of behavior and put in place a framework of negotiations to manage and eventually resolve their disputes. Despite frequent flare-ups, mutual suspicions and distrust, and political grandstanding, substantial progress was achieved and, most importantly, conflict between their armed forces has been avoided.

South China Sea conflicting territorial claims

In the early 1990s, joint working groups were established to discuss the three disputes, with priority given to the land boundary and Gulf of Tonkin problems. In 1997 the two sides agreed to resolve the land frontier issue by the end of 2000. On December 30, 1999, the Land Border Treaty was finally signed; it came into effect in July 2000 following ratification by both countries’ national assemblies. Details of the treaty’s provisions remained secret, however, and this fueled rumors inside Vietnam that under the dual pressures of the 2000 deadline and bullying from China, Hanoi had conceded too much land to Beijing. These rumors were partly propagated by so-called “cyber-dissidents,” several of whom were imprisoned in 2002 for posting “anti-government” material on the Internet. In late 2002 the Vietnamese government was able to quash these rumors by publishing details of the treaty online; it also revealed that ownership of 87.6 square miles of land had been under dispute, and that the treaty had awarded Vietnam 43.6 sq mi and China 44 sq mi (Associated Press, September 16, 2002). By the time details of the treaty had emerged, work had already begun on planting 1,533 border tablets. Laying the border markers has been a very slow process, mainly due to difficult terrain and the movement of peoples required by exchanges of land. In 2005 the two sides agreed to accelerate the process and complete the task by the end of 2008. Currently 85 percent of border tablets have been planted, and the entire process is expected to be completed by mid-year. An agreement concerning border management and regulations is due to be signed before the end of this year.

Substantial progress in the Gulf of Tonkin has also been achieved. After 17 rounds of negotiations, on December 25, 2000, Vietnam and China signed the Agreement on the Demarcation of Waters, Exclusive Economic Zones and Continental Shelves in the Gulf of Tonkin, which divided the gulf along an equidistant line. At the same time, they concluded an Agreement on Fishing Cooperation in the Gulf of Tonkin which delineated exclusive and common fishing areas. These agreements were not ratified, however, until July 2004 due to protracted negotiations over lucrative fishing rights in the area, and it was not until a Supplementary Protocol to the fishing agreement was signed that ratification could take place [1]. Nevertheless, even after ratification skirmishes between fishing vessels in the Gulf of Tonkin continued to occur, leading each side to accuse the other of infringing the agreements. The most serious incident took place in January 2005 when Chinese patrol boats opened fire on Vietnamese fishing trawlers, killing nine crewmen. In its wake, the two sides agreed to a series of measures designed to prevent further incidents and enhance cooperation in the area. These have included regular joint naval patrols beginning in 2006, the first between China and a foreign country; a joint survey of fishing resources; joint exploration for oil and gas (in November 2005 state-owned PetroVietnam and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation inked an agreement to this effect); and a commitment to start negotiations on demarcating areas outside the Gulf of Tonkin.

Progress toward resolving overlapping sovereignty claims in the South China Sea have been less than encouraging. During the 1990s the two sides remained fundamentally at odds over the issue: Vietnam wanted to discuss sovereignty of the Paracel Islands—occupied by China in 1974—while China considered the matter closed; Vietnam wanted to discuss the Spratlys issue in a multilateral setting with ASEAN, while Beijing favored a bilateral approach. Neither side was willing to compromise its sovereignty claims, leading to a number of tense Sino-Vietnamese stand-offs in the mid-1990s.

The November 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DoC), an agreement aimed at freezing the status quo and encouraging cooperative confidence-building measures among the disputants, represented both a victory and a defeat for Vietnam. It was a victory because China had conceded the need to approach the problem multilaterally, but it was a defeat because Hanoi had wanted to clearly define the scope of the agreement to include the Paracels—China objected, Hanoi relented.

When the Philippines and China agreed to conduct joint explorations for oil and gas in contested waters in September 2004, Vietnam initially condemned the move as a violation of the DoC, but eventually agreed to participate in the tripartite Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) in March 2005. Officially Vietnam claimed it had joined the JMSU in the interests of promoting regional stability; in reality, Hanoi was prepared to participate in the project because the survey zone covered by the agreement was not located in waters claimed by Vietnam—or China for that matter. As will be examined in Part Two, in the last few months the JMSU has aroused considerable political controversy in the Philippines, and a question mark hangs over the agreement’s future.

Moreover, the JMSU has done little to mitigate Sino-Vietnamese tensions in the South China Sea as a whole. Indeed, in 2007 relations sharply deteriorated over the dispute. Three sets of incidents combined to rile Vietnam. The first took place in April when China accused Vietnam of violating its sovereignty by allowing a consortium of energy companies led by British Petroleum (BP) to develop two gas fields in the Con Son Basin, 230 mi off Vietnam’s southeast coast. Vietnam rejected China’s protest by claiming the project was well within its EEZ. In June, however, BP announced that it was suspending work in the two gas fields until further notice, fueling speculation that Beijing had put pressure on the company by threatening to exclude it from future energy deals in China. Energy-hungry Vietnam was furious at China’s perceived bullying.

The second set of incidents related to the Paracel Islands. In July 2007, Chinese naval patrol vessels fired on a Vietnamese fishing boat, killing one sailor; in August 2007, China announced plans to begin tourist cruises to the Paracels, leading Vietnam to reaffirm its sovereignty claims over the archipelago; and in November Vietnam protested Chinese military exercises in the Paracels.

The third incident concerned the allegation—not yet confirmed by the PRC government—that the National People’s Congress had passed a law in early December 2007 creating a county-level city in Hainan province called Sansha to administer China’s claims in the South China Sea, including the Paracel and Spratly Islands. For the Vietnamese government the Sansha proposal was the last straw. Over two consecutive weekends in December it allowed hundreds of students to conduct anti-China protests near the Chinese embassy in Hanoi and consular office in Ho Chi Minh City. The demonstrators expressed anger over China’s claims in the Paracels and Spratlys, accusing Beijing of pursuing hegemonic ambitions (Straits Times, December 17, 2007).

Protester in front of the Chinese embassy in Hanoi. “The Paracels and Spratlys of Vietnam”

The Vietnamese government claimed the coordinated protests had been spontaneous, though this is highly unlikely in tightly controlled Vietnam; in fact, Hanoi had taken a leaf out of China’s playbook and used the demonstrations to register its indignation with Beijing. The Chinese government declared itself “highly concerned” at the rallies and chided the Vietnamese authorities to adopt a “responsible attitude” and “avoid bilateral ties from being hurt” (Xinhua News Agency, December 11, 2007). Relations took another hit in January when China accused Vietnamese fishermen of attacking Chinese trawlers in the Gulf of Tonkin. Vietnam responded that Vietnamese and Chinese fishing boats had merely bumped into each other after getting their nets entangled.

In keeping with their long-standing commitment to resolve outstanding disputes through peaceful means and not through force, and not to let territorial issues hinder the forward momentum of ties, Vietnam and China moved quickly to stabilize relations. The China-Vietnam Steering Committee met in Beijing on January 23, 2008 to douse the flames: Co-chairs Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan and Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Gia Khiem agreed to “properly handle the problems in bilateral relations” through “dialogue and consultation,” and accelerate negotiations on the delineation of remaining areas of the Gulf of Tonkin and issues relating to the South China Sea (Xinhua News Agency, January 23). Prior to the steering committee meeting, Vietnamese and Chinese officials had met on four separate occasions in January to discuss the land border, Gulf of Tonkin, and South China Sea, agreeing on the need to maintain peace and stability in the area, refrain from complicating the situation, and promote cooperative activities (BBC, January 30).

Since normalization, Vietnam has had to contend with the problems posed by being the weaker party in an increasingly asymmetric relationship: How to accommodate a rising China, steer a middle path between hostility and dependence, and preserve the country’s political autonomy. The South China Sea dispute is emblematic of Vietnam’s problems, and despite improved ties with China, the sovereignty issue is as far as ever from a resolution and continues to overshadow the relationship. While both parties have a vested interest in avoiding confrontation so that they can concentrate on economic development, against a backdrop of ascending oil prices and rising demand for off-shore energy resources, future Sino-Vietnamese contention in the South China Sea seems more likely than not.


[1] Guifang Xue, China and International Fishery Law and Policy (Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff, 2005), p. 225.


Vietnam detains anti-China activists before torch relay

HO CHI MINH CITY (AFP) — Police in Vietnam prevented major anti-Chinese rallies Tuesday with what activists said were scores of detentions ahead of the Ho Chi Minh City leg of the troubled Olympic torch relay.

The US-based pro-democracy group Viet Tan said it had confirmed more than a dozen detainees by name in Hanoi while several activists and bloggers claimed scores more had been taken into custody, including a group of fishermen.

Viet Tan, which is banned in communist Vietnam, said those detained after protesting at China’s human rights record and its claim to disputed islands in the South China Sea were students, teachers, artists and farmers.

Police would not confirm any detentions, but an AFP reporter witnessed one incident at a Hanoi market when two protesters were taken away after unfurling a banner showing the five Olympic rings rendered as handcuffs.

The Beijing Olympic flame was flown into Ho Chi Minh City — formerly known as Saigon — from North Korea late Monday.

The relay was scheduled to start in the southern port city at 6:30 pm amid tight security, with organisers anxious to avoid disruption by pro-Tibet and rights activists that has dogged earlier legs of the global journey.

Some 60 runners will carry the torch from the downtown Opera House along a secret route of some 10 to 13 kilometres (six to eight miles) to the Military Zone 7 Competition Hall stadium near the airport, officials said.

After Vietnam, the Olympic torch will be flown to Hong Kong and Macau, and from there into the Chinese mainland.

Ho Chi Minh City includes Vietnam’s largest ethnic Chinese community, and several youths were seen wearing T-shirts that said “Proud to be Chinese” and bore the Beijing Olympics logo “One World, One Dream, One China.”

While pro-Tibet rallies have dogged the relay in cities including London, Paris and Canberra, Vietnam’s mostly young and nationalist activists are more driven by the country’s own long-simmering dispute with its neighbour.

Beijing and Hanoi are among the claimants to the Spratly and Paracel island chains, in a dispute that late last year triggered a series of street rallies rarely seen in Vietnam, a one-party state.

The governments of Vietnam and China routinely stress their comradely ties, and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung last week promised China’s visiting Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi to stage a trouble-free torch relay.

The premier warned that “hostile forces” would seek to disrupt the event, using a standard term from the communist lexicon for pro-democracy activists.

In both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, scores of riot police deployed outside Chinese diplomatic missions, where last December’s rallies started.

Police last week detained a blogger, accusing him of tax evasion, and also expelled a Vietnamese-American chemical engineer caught with T-shirts bearing slogans such as “A Gold Medal for Oppression.”

The banned People’s Democratic Party said university students here had also been detained for printing T-shirts that read, “Protest the torch relay” and “China invaded Vietnam’s Spratly and Paracel Islands.”

Vietnam was ruled as a vassal state by China for centuries and repeatedly invaded by successive Chinese dynasties, and most Vietnamese folk heroes are leaders who fought back the northern invaders.

China and Vietnam fought their last border war in 1979, but the leaders in Hanoi and Beijing, two of the world’s five remaining communist regimes, have since normalised relations and become strong economic partners.

29 April 2008

Source: AFP

News Brief #2, update on Olympic Torch Relay 2008 in Saigon

Radio New Horizon

News Brief #2

Outpouring of Patriotism in Hanoi and Saigon
Consideration for Beijing by Communist Party and Government

At 9 o’clock in Hanoi on April 29, 2008, about 150 people including democracy activists, aggrieved farmers and families of fishermen from Thanh Hoa province that were killed by the Chinese navy on the Eastern sea, gathered in front of Dong Xuan market protesting against Chinese aggression and invasion of the Spratly and Paracel islands. The protests brought banners, including a large black and white showing five Olympic rings rendered as handcuffs. They also brought megaphones to call for people to participate.

Only 15 minutes later, more than 300 security police rushed in to snatch slogans; tearing down banners; twisting arms and bashing people in the protest. Please listen to the report from poet Tran Duc Thach:


The police later arrested all those who were thought organizing the protest, including writer Nguyen Xuan Nghia, teacher Vu Hung, students Ngo Quynh and Tien Nam, Vi Duc Hoi, Kim Thu….at level 1, Dong Xuan Market. At 10 o’clock, police escorted all those that were arrested by cars back to Hanoi’s police station at 87 Tran Hung Dao Street. Meanwhile, those remain had moved to Dong Xuan market rather than going home. At 10:30am on April 29, security police came to arrest more than 100 people in front of Dong Xuan market including poet Tran Duc Thach, Do Duy Thong, Chau, Kieu, Nguyen Ba Dang, Tuc, students Nhat, Toan, Vy and all fishermen from Thanh Hoa, aggrieved farmers from Mai Xuan Thuong, teacher delegation from Ha Dong, students from Hai Phong…etc. Everyone was packed into police cars and transported back to Hanoi’s police station at 87 Tran Hung Dao Street for interrogation.

The brutal nature of 300 police astounded the protest. People were shocked by the determination of the Vietnamese authorities and the police in trying to repress patriots, to save face for Beijing. But these brutalities were not able to deter the people. Please listen to democracy activist Duong Thi Xuan announced the sentiments of the protest at Dong Xuan market:


In the mean time, the situation in Saigon becomes tenser. Police is now allowed to burst into shops along the street to arrest people without the need for warrant. As it comes closer to the ceremonial sites and toward the end of the Olympic Torch Relay, only Chinese tourists can be seen walking around freely, whereas all Vietnamese are watched with suspicion. Some were sent away, others were taken into police custody.

Updated at 3pm Vietnam, April 29, 2008.

Photos courtesy of radiochantroimoi.com bloggers

Only Chinese-speaking supporters (most likely Chinese visitors) were allowed to freely walk through the streets. Protesters speaking up about Hoang Sa/Truong Sa and pro-democracy activists were harassed and arrested by police officials.

Blogger “Điếu Cày” Nguyễn Hoàng Hải bị bắt | Pro-democracy blogger arrested before Olympic protests in Viet Nam

Blogger “Điếu Cày” Nguyễn Hoàng Hải bị bắt trước ngày rước đuốc Olympic
Sunday, April 20, 2008
medium_DieuCay.jpgBlogger “Điếu Cày” Nguyễn Hoàng Hải

ĐÀ LẠT- Trang mạng của Câu Lạc Bộ Nhà Báo Tự Do hôm 20 tháng Tư cho hay, nhà báo tự do Nguyễn Hoàng Hải, còn gọi là Điếu Cày, vốn nổi tiếng trong các cuộc biểu tình chống Trung Quốc đầu năm 2008 tại Sài Gòn, đã bị lực lượng an ninh bắt giữ vào trưa ngày 19 tháng Tư, 2008 tại Đà Lạt.

Blogger “Điếu Cày” bị bắt trước ngày ngọn đuốc Olympic Bắc Kinh sẽ được rước qua Sài Gòn vào 29 tháng Tư tới đây.

Theo “Câu Lạc Bộ Nhà Báo Tự Do”, sau nhiều lần bị công an địa phương thẩm vấn liên tục về vai trò tổ chức biểu tình chống Trung Quốc và vấn đề cho thuê nhà cá nhân bất chấp giờ giấc sinh hoạt và công việc hàng ngày của mình, anh Hoàng Hải đã phản đối cách điều tra thẩm vấn chà đạp nhân quyền đó bằng cách không tuân thủ lệnh triệu tập và rời nơi cư trú để đi du lịch.

Phía công an đã điên cuồng truy tìm anh và điều tra mọi người trong gia đình và người quen biết để buộc anh trở về. Họ hoang tưởng lo ngại vai trò của anh Hải trong cuộc biểu tình mà người dân có thể tổ chức để phản đối Trung Quốc tại buổi rước đuốc Olympic ở Sài Gòn vào ngày 29 tháng 4 năm 2008.

Vẫn theo “Câu Lạc Bộ Nhà Báo Tự Do”, công an Việt Nam thậm chí còn nhắn với gia đình và bạn bè anh rằng họ sẽ để yên cho nhân viên an ninh Trung Quốc tại Việt Nam thủ tiêu anh bằng tai nạn giao thông để bảo đảm an ninh cho ngày rước đuốc.

Cũng trong bản tin, “Câu Lạc Bộ Nhà Báo Tự Do” cảnh báo: “Chúng tôi thông báo tin này đến tất cả mọi người để ngăn chặn khả năng công an Việt Nam hợp tác với an ninh Trung Quốc thủ tiêu anh Nguyễn Hoàng Hải, còn gọi là Điếu Cày, rồi đổ cho tai nạn. Chính phủ Việt Nam và lực lượng công an Việt Nam phải chịu mọi trách nhiệm đối với sự an nguy của anh Hải. Hành động bắt giam anh Hải là vi phạm trắng trợn luật pháp Việt Nam hiện hành”.

Trong những ngày này, nhà cầm quyền Việt Nam đang gia tăng các biện pháp an ninh vì lo ngại sẽ có biểu tình chống ngọn đuốc Olympic Bắc Kinh khi nó được rước qua Sài Gòn vào ngày 29 tháng Tư. Cho tới nay, người dân thành phố chưa biết cụ thể lộ trình mà ngọn đuốc sẽ đi qua.

Hôm 20 tháng Tư, tại Hà Nội, đích thân thủ tướng Nguyễn Tấn Dũng đã chủ trì một cuộc họp với các cơ quan, bộ, ngành,… liên quan đến việc rước đuốc để chỉ đạo “phải đảm bảo an toàn” cho chặng rước đuốc tại Sài Gòn.

Vụ bắt giữ Blogger “Điếu Cày” cho thấy các động thái của nhà cầm quyền đã bắt đầu nhằm hạn chế các cuộc biểu tình phản đối ngọn đuốc mà nhiều người cho là biểu tượng của “bá quyền” khi nó đi qua Sài Gòn, Việt Nam.


Translated summary: Prominent Vietnamese blogger Dieu Cay was arrested on April 19 in Da Lat, Vietnam. Known for his blog – Club of Free Journalism – Dieu Cay is an outspoken critic of the Vietnamese Communist party and an influential citizen journalist advocacy for the pro-democracy movement. Recently, he’s been rallying support to protest the Olympic torch relay, due to make its appearance in Sai Gon (Ho Chi Minh City).

*Commentary: No doubt Dieu Cay will probably be charged with using propaganda against the state. This arrest is typical of the brutal crackdown on journalistic freedom in Vietnam; the Vietnamese Communist party does not tolerate any challenges to its grip on power. Even a blog with the hint of dissent against the state will be dealt with harshly. Many students and community groups, including prominent online dissidents, pro-democracy & human rights activists will use the April 29th torch relay to protest China’s land-grab policy of the Spratly and Parcel Islands.

VietWill Plans Protest at San Francisco’s Olympic Torch Relay

Berkeley, CA
14 March 2008

A protest against China’s military aggression in the South China Sea, characterized by its violent harassment of Vietnamese fishermen making a living on their own waters, is being planned by an internet based activist group Viet Will, for when the Olympic Torch passes through San Francisco on April 9th.

The group’s decision to hold a protest at the upcoming event is in direct response to host China’s politicization of the Olympic Games by capitalizing on the Olympic torch relay to make illegal claims on Vietnamese territories which it had seized by force and continues to control.

While the issue over China’s illegal seizure of Vietnam’s Paracel Islands in the South China Sea since 1974 has not been resolved, China aspires to utilize the Olympic Games as a front in order to publicize to the world its dominion over the Paracel Islands by including an enlarged and boxed off map of the archipelago in all of its torch route maps.

China has further tried to emphasize its contempt for Vietnam by forcing the Olympic torch to pass through the Paracel Islands on its way to Ho Chi Minh City on April 29th. Normal international protocol stipulates when the Olympic Games torch passes through a specific location in any particular country, permission needs to be granted from that country in order for this to occur.

In the case of the Paracel Islands, by taking advantage of the upper hand in its relationships with Vietnam, China has decided unilaterally to have the Olympic torch pass through the archipelago as a matter of national issue, despite the fact that Vietnam has never given up on its claim of rightful ownership of the islands. Historical and judicial evidence demonstrate that Vietnam’s claims are well-founded.

In reality, the Paracel Islands are very small. If the islands were depicted proportionally to the rest of the relay route map, they would not be visible at all. Still, the fact that China has magnified the islands and boxed them off on all its maps indicates its intent to make territorial claims and using the high profile Olympic Games as its built-in publicity vehicle, which smacks of politicizing the sports festival.

The organizers of the protest aims to demonstrate the theme of the Olympic torch relay “Journey of Harmony” is contrary to the reality of China’s actions in the South China Sea, where in the past several decades, China has been increasingly aggressive in making claims on Vietnamese territories via diplomatic coercion and outright military force.

In the process of trying to control the region, China has made the life of poor Vietnamese fishermen a nightmare by continually ordering its navy to hunt down, capture, extort money, shoot to injure and murder Vietnamese fishermen and sink Vietnamese fishing boats on the sea surrounding both the Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands, which China also partially controls as a result of military invasion in the 1980s and 1990s.

Countless families have lost loved ones their boats, their livelihoods and have gone bankrupt as a result of being attacked by the Chinese navy while trying to catch fish for a living on their own waters. Captured fishermen on the sea are forced to pay a monumental sum of $15,000 USD before being let go or they may face torture and execution.

The purpose of Viet Will’s protest is, firstly, to highlight China’s hypocrisy in taking advantage of the Olympic Games to make claims on Vietnam’s Paracel Islands, and of the sea waters around the Paracel and Spratly Islands.

Secondly, protestors seek to demand that China stop hunting down and murdering Vietnamese fishermen who are in their own waters as well as disputed waters, thereby preventing poor people from making an honest living.

Thirdly, protestors seek to demand that China respect the territorial integrity of its Southeast Asian neighbors (both land and sea) by giving up its unjustified claims on the Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands.

This is a political issue which could mushroom into a larger conflict in Southeast Asia. No neighboring nation is going to feel safe if China can bully its way into their territorial boundaries and take over at will. This has already happened in Tibet and Taiwan, and it is happening again. Attention must be brought to China’s dangerous and damaging legacy of arrogance, greed and murder. This rally held by Viet Will will amplify this matter at hand.

Email: info@vietwill.net

Spratly Islands Will be Quiet in 2008


Chinese oil companies are unlikely to pursue any significant hydrocarbon exploration in the disputed region around the Spratly Islands in 2008, as Chinese national oil companies have slowed activities there to ensure the success of the Beijing Olympics.

The central government doesn’t want the intensifying Spratly sovereignty dispute to heat up, especially with Vietnam, and it has asked the Chinese NOCs to avoid any conflict in the contested waters. As a result, PetroChina has canceled a plan to drill its first wildcat well in the Spratlys.

Last year, Vietnam announced it would explore oil fields off the Spratlys with BP to set up natural gas supply pipelines. Vietnam has also decided to hold elections for parliament members representing 24 of the total 48 islands, which it occupies. In response, China established the city of Sansha, which is part of Hainan Province and encompasses all of the islands on waters spanning 2.6 million square kilometers. In early December, a Vietnamese group protested in front of the Chinese embassy in Hanoi.

South China Seizure


When China created a new administrative unit covering three archipelagos in the South China Sea in December 2007 — including two claimed by Vietnam — Beijing re-ignited a vexing dilemma for Hanoi. Should Vietnam assert its national interest by pressing the nation’s historical claim to the disputed territory, or defend the narrow interests of Vietnam’s Communist Party by kowtowing to a Chinese leadership that has lent political support to Hanoi?

This dilemma is the latest development in a long-standing dispute. The Spratly and Paracel archipelagos in the South China Sea consist of tiny islands and reefs with rich fishing and, possibly, petroleum reserves, and are strategically located in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. For countries that have an interest in freedom of navigation and a peaceful resolution to maritime disputes, the issue of the South China Sea has strategic implications. Oil from the Persian Gulf to Japan and South Korea passes through these waters. And the American navy does not want China to treat the South China Sea as its personal lake.

Vietnamese imperial dynasties going back several centuries had claimed what are now known as the Paracels and Spratlys. And the Vietnamese aren’t the only ones with their eyes on the islands. China, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines claim all or part of either or both of the chains. Taiwan’s President Chen Shui-bian even personally inaugurated an airplane runway on one of the Spratlys earlier this month.

In the 20th century, Vietnam’s claim became a bargaining chip in the broader struggle for control of the country. In 1958, four years after the partition of Vietnam into North and South at the 17th parallel, North Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Van Dong sent a cable to Zhou Enlai acknowledging Beijing’s sweeping claims over the entire South China Sea. Vietnam’s communists hoped that by doing so they’d secure China’s backing for the war against the South.

Never mind that the islands weren’t Hanoi’s to give away at that time — South Vietnam had de jure and de facto possession of the archipelagos because they lay below the 17th parallel. In 1974, taking advantage of the war in Vietnam, Beijing sought to cement its claim by invading the Paracels. In a three-day naval battle, China seized control of the archipelago from South Vietnam. The reaction in the communist North was muted, with Hanoi’s propagandists claiming it was better to have the islands in the hands of a fellow socialist state than those of the Saigon regime.

Following the war, Hanoi officially maintained that the Paracels and Spratlys are Vietnam’s, but often accommodated China’s efforts to cement control over the chains. In recent years, Chinese naval vessels have occasionally fired on Vietnamese fishing boats and killed scores of people in waters off Vietnam, which China treats as its exclusive economic zone. China has called the Vietnamese fishermen pirates. But Vietnamese state media have largely ignored the attacks and in a few tepid articles mentioned the shooting of fishermen by “foreign” ships.

Meanwhile, Vietnam’s claims to the islands strike a nationalist chord domestically. Despite the regime’s best efforts to keep the dispute out of people’s minds to avoid stoking tensions with Beijing, it’s still an issue that inflames passions on the street. There have recently been calls from the blogger movement inside Vietnam for the government to bring the issue of the Paracels and Spratlys before the United Nations Security Council. News that China had tightened its administrative grip on the islands unleashed unprecedented student protests outside the Chinese embassy in Hanoi and consulate in Ho Chi Minh City.

Vietnamese authorities took steps to deter and subsequently ban street demonstrations. Police went as far as detaining bloggers who publicized the protests. But even so, the pressure may have become a little too great. The official media gave wide coverage to an article in the South China Morning Post several weeks later which quoted a local Chinese official who said he was unaware of the incorporation, in an attempt to downplay the seriousness of China’s recent action.

Complicating matters is Vietnam’s hard-won seat on the Security Council. The regime hoped the seat would be an opportunity to burnish its image at home and abroad. Now Hanoi has to answer to public calls for it to use its lofty position on the world stage to pursue a nationalist territorial claim that runs counter to the best interests of the ruling party.

Without a doubt there are many in the Hanoi regime — and especially the People’s Army of Viet Nam — who are concerned about China’s expansionist moves. But there are an even greater number within the regime who are scared about “peaceful evolution,” the Communist Party’s codeword for democratic change, which could result from tilting relations away from China and toward the West. It would be hard for Hanoi to continue following the Chinese model — open economy, closed politics — while confronting its patron at the same time, given Hanoi’s ideological reliance on China. Yet the greatest fear for the regime is not China. It’s that a new generation of Vietnamese are becoming engaged in a debate that pits the national interest against the party interest; that this generation is coming down on the side of the nation; and that they’re less willing to tolerate government censorship of that debate.