HANOI (AFP) – About one hundred people took to Hanoi’s streets to protest against Beijing’s territorial ambitions in the South China Sea — the latest in a string of anti-China rallies in recent weeks.
Despite forcibly dispersing earlier protests, police on Sunday allowed demonstrators to march for about two hours around Hoan Kiem lake, bearing Vietnamese flags and banners and shouting slogans such as “Down with aggressive China!”
China and Vietnam have a long-running dispute over the sovereignty of the potentially oil-rich Paracel and Spratly island groups, which straddle vital commercial shipping lanes in the South China Sea.
Tensions have flared since May when Vietnam said Chinese marine surveillance vessels cut the exploration cables of an oil survey ship inside the country’s exclusive economic zone.
Sunday’s rally, which passed off peacefully under heavy police surveillance, was the ninth in 10 weeks — an unprecedented run of street action in communist Vietnam, where overtly political demonstrations are rare.
Authorities tolerated the first five small protests near the Chinese embassy, but then forcibly dispersed two demonstrations and briefly detained people after talks between Hanoi and Beijing in June.
Vietnamese bitterly recall 1,000 years of Chinese occupation and, more recently, a 1979 border war. More than 70 Vietnamese sailors were killed in 1988 when the two sides battled off the Spratlys.
Another claimant to the Spratlys, the Philippines, has complained this year of Chinese aggression in the disputed waters, where Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan also have claims.