Hanoi, demonstrations in honour of anti-Chinese Spratly "heroes”
Yesterday, a group of protesters celebrated the 25th anniversary of the battle for the Spratly, which killed 64 Vietnamese soldiers. This is the first public demonstration in 2013 and last year every public protest was suppressed by force by the police. Tensions remain high over sea borders in the South China Sea.

Hanoi (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Activist groups organized an anti-Chinese event in the streets of Hanoi yesterday afternoon, on the anniversary of the battle for the Spratly Islands during which 64 Vietnamese soldiers were killed. Vietnam and China have long clashed over the the border around the Spratly and Paracel archipelago in the South China Sea, claimed by both countries for the exploitation of underground resources - oil and natural gas - and the proceeds from fishing.

Hanoi Historians claim sovereignty of the islands "since the seventeenth century", but a Chinese navy attack between 17 and 19 January 1974 led to the conquest - and control - of the Paracel. In 1988, followed an attack on the Spratly's during which Beijing vessels opened fire, killing 64 Vietnamese border guards, occupying seven small portions of land. For the Hanoi nationalists, the victims of the attack are considered "heroes" in all respects.

Yesterday on the streets of the Vietnamese capital a dozen people laid wreaths with "the people will never forget" at the foot of the statue of Ly Thai To, the founder of Hanoi and convinced nationalist, in the city center. This is the first anti-Chinese demonstration in 2013, after a series of demonstrations last year that were suppressed by police. Alternating different songs on the violin, the activist Ta Tri Hai (pictured) expressed the hope that the ceremony will "reinvigorate patriotism [and celebrate] a thousand years of history of fighting against foreign invasion, against China."

In the past, demonstrations by Vietnamese nationalists against what for them was Vietnam's subordination to China were viewed by the government in Hanoi as open challenges. In 2011, when intellectuals and ordinary citizens took to the streets, shouting slogans and carrying placards and banners, Vietnam's Communist rulers cracked down hard, with many people arrested and homes searched. (cfr. AsiaNews 22/08/2011 Hanoi cracks down on protests, 50 anti-Chinese demonstrators arrested over South China Sea).

Among all the nations in the Asia-Pacific region involved in the dispute, China has the most extensive claims in the South China Sea. The Spratly and Paracel Islands are uninhabited but rich in energy and raw materials. Controlling them would provide a major strategic advantage in terms of trade and access to oil and natural gas. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan are opposed to China's expansionism, and can rely on the support of the United States, which has major strategic interests in the area. In fact, the Asia-Pacific region has already seen various incidents involving Navy ships and fishing boats from different countries. Under the circumstances, countries like the Philippines and Japan, but also Vietnam, could become allies in case of open conflict.