08/22/2011, 00.00
VIETNAM – CHINA

Hanoi cracks down on protests, 50 anti-Chinese demonstrators arrested over South China Sea

Thanh Thuy
Plainclothes and uniformed police move against peaceful protesters, who were demonstrating near Haon Kiem Lake in downtown Hanoi. Students, intellectuals and ordinary citizens were among those who took to the streets against Chinese imperialism. The fate of five Vietnamese sailors arrested by the Chinese Navy remains unknown.
Hanoi (AsiaNews) – Vietnamese police arrested about 50 people downtown Hanoi because for protesting against China’s claims in the South China Sea. Various activists and patriots, including students, intellectuals and ordinary citizens, took to the streets, shouting slogans against Vietnam’s powerful neighbour. Police eventually broke up the gathering.

The incident is a sign that the dispute over islands could become a source of domestic divisions and lead to wider protests in Vietnam, echoing the Arab spring in the Middle East and North Africa. For this reason, the government moved decisively to stamp out the protest and enforce its “zero tolerance” policy towards dissent. The peaceful demonstrators who met near Haon Kiem Lake, in downtown Hanoi, were taken into custody.

The authorities kept their words, as the Communist paper Hanoi Moi said they would. An official notice published in the paper had announced that “all necessary measures” would be taken and the right forces would be used to crack down on protests. The latter had begun on 5 June and were repeated each Sunday.

Protesters oppose what they view as China’s expansionist claims in the South China Sea, which has been a hot point of contention between Vietnam, Philippines and China.

The goal is to control the waters around the Spratly and Paracel Islands. The two archipelagos are almost uninhabited but are rich in oil, raw materials and fish.

Beijing claims 85 per cent of the sea against the claims of countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines.

In its official pronouncement, China has described the South China Sea as an area of “vital interest” from a geographic, strategic and economic point of view. In the past, it has used asserted that interest on several occasions (for example, in 1974 and 1988).

The Hanoi protest lasted only seven minutes. Uniformed police, aided by plainclothes officer, stopped the activists and led to two buses with darkened windows.

At least 50 people were taken into custody. As they were pushed into the vehicles, they continued singing and shouting slogans like ‘Down with the Chinese Invasion’, ‘Let us protect Vietnam, our native motherland,’ and ‘Spratly and Paracel belong to Vietnam’.

The group of demonstrators included students, intellectuals, artists, lawyers, writers and ordinary citizens. One of them said that the Vietnamese had “overcome fear” and were protesting to “protect our nation”.

On a related front, nothing is known of the fate of five Vietnamese fishermen arrested by a Chinese Navy vessel on Thursday.

Provincial authorities in Quảng Bình confirmed the incident, saying that they were seized inside disputed waters.

The wife of the boat’s captain, Nguyễn Văn Thạnh, told the press that her “husband and his staff have not yet been released”. Instead, she said she received a ransom demand for “US$ 6.250” for their freedom.
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