06/06/2018, 19.11
VIETNAM
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Hanoi selling out economic zones to Beijing

by Paul Nguyen Thanh

The National Assembly is preparing to vote on conceding Vân Đồn, Bắc Vân Phong and Phú Quốc as economic zones. For former lawmaker Nguyễn Minh Thuyết, largescale investments is leading to intensive and harmful exploitation of the environment. Catholic teacher fears that Chinese domination will threaten Vietnamese Catholicism.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) – "What the authorities are doing is selling out our country to China," said Mr Thuận, a Catholic elementary school teacher, reacting to upcoming trade agreements between the Vietnamese government and its Chinese "communist brothers".

Like him, millions of Vietnamese fear that the authorities will subject the country to the will of Beijing, when on 15 June the National Assembly votes a bill on "special administrative-economic zones".

In particular, lawmakers will decide on the creation of three important Chinese economic hubs in Vân Đồn (Quảng Ninh province), Bắc Vân Phong (Khánh Hòa) and on Phú Quốc Island (Kiên Giang).

If approved, thanks to special incentives, the plan would allow Chinese red capitalists to acquire, for 99 years, the rights to exploit the areas, located in regions of significant geopolitical and historical interest.

The Vietnamese, at home and abroad, are afraid that these areas may become tô giới, kingdoms dominated by China, thus undermining national sovereignty.

Vân Đồn is a strategic island district in the northeastern province of Quảng Ninh, on the border with China. Located off the Bay of Bái Tử Long, it includes 600 islands and reefs covering an area of ​​more than 550 km2.

Established in 2006, the Special Economic Zone in ​​Bắc Vân Phong covers ​​1,500 km2 and is a major tourist and economic centre. From this area it is possible to monitor the trade routes that crisscross the South China Sea, which is Beijing’s goal.

Phú Quốc island, 574 km2, provides instead control over the Gulf of Thailand, a fundamental passage for ships that sail the Pacific and Indian oceans.

Justifying the concerns of the citizens, former parliamentarian Nguyễn Minh Thuyết said yesterday that "The Spratly and the Paracel Islands have already ended up in the hands of Beijing. To these must be added the forests along the border, key areas for Vietnam, as well as the coasts of Nha Trang, Đà Nẵng and Vũng Áng, in Hà Tĩnh province.”

"These areas are being intensively exploited and the environment is devastated. The pollution of soil, water and air is damaging the health of the millions of people who live there."

For Nguyễn Xuân Nghĩa, a well-known Vietnamese-American journalist and an international economics expert, "The contents of the draft law on the three autonomous special economic zones concern the survival of the nation and its people. We must consider that the three areas could be given in concession to a foreign country for almost a century."

Over the years, Vietnamese and international experts have said that "the main projects of the Chinese government in Vietnam have failed or have damaged the environment in a terrible way". These include the Highland Bauxite Project, the Formosa Steel Company plant in Vũng Áng (Hà Tĩnh province), and projects in Dung Quất and Nhân Cơ projects etc.

Despite this, the Vietnamese government continues to pursue a very risky economic policy. Experts warn that, once in control of these three economic zones, Beijing could deploy armed forces to protect its interests. Once they have granted the concession, Vietnamese authorities will no longer have access to the territories.

"I am a Catholic, and my voice is of little importance,” Mr Thuận told AsiaNews. “I cannot call on the Vietnamese to protest against the government. However, what the authorities are doing is selling out our country to China. Catholics must become aware of this and help save the nation.”

"By getting these territories, China could control almost all of Vietnam by 2020, exercising its 'soft power' on the local economy, finance and culture. If this happens, Catholicism would be even more threatened by communism and would face immense difficulties."

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