Young Vietnamese, spurred by calls on Facebook and other social media, marched through Hanoi to protest China’s recent actions in disputed territories in the South China Sea.
Holding signs that read “Stop Chinese Invasion of Vietnam Lands” and singing the national anthem, a crowd of mostly Vietnamese college students demonstrated on Hanoi’s streets yesterday after police blocked their path to the Chinese embassy.
The protests, announced on Facebook, blogs and chat forums, highlight growing tensions in the South China Sea as Vietnam, the Philippines and China are unable to agree on renewing joint exploration in the disputed area.
For the Vietnamese demonstrators, it was an unusual public opportunity to engage politically. Most said they heard about the protest on Facebook, which is routinely blocked in Vietnam. The marchers were often flanked by security police.
Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs last week formally protested a recent incident in which Chinese naval ships threatened Vietnamese fishermen with weapons in the area of the Spratly Islands, according to a statement on the government website. Vietnam also protested Chinese ships cutting survey cables of a boat operated by Vietnam Oil & Gas Group, or PetroVietnam, last month.
“I’m marching for peace,” said Nguyen Ly Nga Hien, a 21-year-old university student. “If we allow China to continue its bullying behavior, it will upset world peace. This dispute needs to be solved through foreign affairs channels not with Chinese boats provoking us.”
In 2007, hundreds of people demonstrated outside the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi over the Spratly and Paracel islands.
Vietnam and China have verbally sparred over the disputed territories in recent weeks ahead of the annual IISS Asia Security Summit, also known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, that took place over the weekend in Singapore.
The Spratly Islands are claimed all or in part by China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.