China out now!

One outcome of live fire exercises

Tensions continue to escalate between China and Vietnam after Hanoi accused Beijing in late May of cutting the cables of a Vietnamese ship conducting “seismic research” in disputed sea waters. This follows a number of diplomatic jabs and spats between the two countries. All involve territory disputes and island wrangling. Here’s how China sees it.

You can imagine the other countries’ disbelief. Vietnam held live-fire naval exercises off its central coast to strengthen its claims over the Spratly and Paracel Islands. And then something remarkable happened. Ordinary Vietnamese had enough and last Sunday took to the streets. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provides for an exclusive economic zone (EEZ), a sea zone generally extending 200 nautical miles (370km) from a nation’s coast. This grants that country rights over the exploration and use of marine resources. What’s tricky is where EEZs overlap.

One guess as to what everyone is really fighting about in the South China Sea. That’s right, potential oil and gas reserves. At the very least, the dominant country in the region also dictates the ocean shipping lanes.

Here are protestors in front of the US Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City.

hcmc infront of US embassy from superskazki on Vimeo.

I argue the protestors went unmolested because it suits the government to be seen internationally as “free and open” when it is decidedly not. A newfound wave of nationalism is to be encouraged as a handy diversion from the meaner realities of life in Communist Vietnam. So while armed police and military stood by (with truncheons and paddy wagons), a collective blind eye was turned as the crowds chanted anti-Chinese slogans, howled for boycotts and waved placards at the TV cameras. But God help anyone unwise enough to wave a “Democracy Now” sign.

Protestors downtown on Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street.

hcmc orator zwei motobaj from superskazki on Vimeo.

Not everyone agrees with me that the government encouraged the protests. It’s true local media ignored or even denied the events. However, despite the distasteful paranoia of nationalism, it is still good to see these protests happen. Post-war Vietnamese have nonetheless savored the unaccustomed—the power of social movements.

Thank you to Sophie for sending me these extraordinary videos … and to the Russian filmographer who sent them to her.

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