05/14/2014, 00.00
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Riots and assaults: Vietnamese protests against Chinese imperialism on the seas turn violent

by Paul N. Hung

15 foreign factories set on fire and an industrial complex raided in the south of the country. At least 20 thousand protesters storm the premises, believing them to be owned by Chinese. Catholics in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, in response to the bishops, organize Masses and prayers. Analysts condemn Beijing’s behavior which - in the long run - "will pay the consequences."

Ho Chi Minh City ( AsiaNews) - In southern Vietnam anger is mounting against Beijing's decision to install a platform for oil exploration, followed by the dispatch of naval ships, fighter jets and helicopters off the Vietnamese east coast to patrol the area. Protests against Chinese imperialism in the South China Sea - characterized by attacks against Vietnamese and Filipino ships and vessels - are turning violent, with protesters setting at least 15 foreign factories ablaze and attacking several others. An escalation of tension that is a source of concern and has prompted the Catholic community to respond to the appeal launched by the bishops, by holding - along with lay people and supporters of the Vietnamese Communist Party - Masses and prayers for peace in the Asia-Pacific region.

Moreover, already in recent days there had already been protests in major cities across the country . Over 2 thousand people gathered outside the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi, to manifest against Chinese "imperialism" in the seas . Similar demonstrations were held May 11 in Ho Chi Minh City , where more than 3 thousand people - Buddhists, Catholics , Protestants and members of other religions - organized marches in front of the Beijing Consulate. They are the most impressive anti-China demonstrations in Vietnam and also involve figures close to the government. A student of Saigon told AsiaNews that there "are also pro-government factions " among the demonstrators; among these are young people wearing "T-shirts of Ho Chi Minh " and brandishing banners with the "hammer and sickle" symbolic characteristics of a communist.

Meanwhile, the Catholic are organizing Masses and prayer services: May 10, the Redemptorists of Thai Ha parish celebrated a Mass for peace, in the presence of a thousand people, including members of the local Communist Party. The next day it was the turn of the parish of Our Lady of Succor in Saigon , where people prayed for " the dangerous situation prevailing in the country." Fr Vincent Pham Trung Thanh , provincial superior of the Redemptorists in Vietnam , said that "we are Catholics as well as good Vietnamese citizens" and "we cannot ignore" the dangers faced by the nation.

Analysts and international policy experts join the Vietnamese in their condemnation of the aggressive attitude of Beijing. Gregory Poling, a researcher at the U.S. Center for Strategic and International Studies ( CSIS ), says China "violates both the Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the eastern seas ( DOC) and the UN Convention on the Seas (UNCLOS ) ."In the long run , he adds, they "will pay the consequences for that attitude ."

Vietnam is not alone in its concerns. The Philippines too has been increasingly worried about Beijing's imperialism in the South China and East China seas. The Chinese government claims most of the sea (almost 85 per cent), including sovereignty over the disputed Spratly and Paracel islands, in opposition to Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia. In recent months, China has used various political, economic and diplomatic means to hamper non-Chinese vessels from fishing or moving through the disputed waters.  For the United States, which backs the claims of Southeast Asia nations, Beijing's so-called 'cow tongue' line is both "illegal" and "irrational". Anyone with a hegemonic sway over the region would have a strategic advantage, in terms of seabed (oil and gas) development, but also in trade since two thirds of the world's maritime trade transit through it.


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