HANOI, Aug 18 (Reuters) – The Vietnamese government on Thursday ordered an end to “gatherings, demonstrations and spontaneous marches” in Hanoi, a signal of its intent to stop a rare string of public anti-China protests over the past three months.
Hanoi city government said the demonstrations had damaged social order, caused political instability, hurt diplomacy and marred the capital’s image, online news outlet Vnexpress.net reported.
Between 50 and 300 people have gathered peacefully in central Hanoi on 10 of the past 11 Sunday mornings to protest against what they see as Chinese infringements on Vietnam’s territory in the South China Sea.
The city government blamed “opposition forces within and outside the country” for the protests, and warned it would take “necessary measures” against anyone who failed to comply with the order, the website reported.
The demonstrations started after the Vietnamese government made public a case in late May in which it said Chinese patrol ships harassed a Vietnamese seismic survey ship operating in Vietnamese waters.
Police detained some demonstrators and journalists during two of the gatherings in July, witnesses said, but subsequently allowed the protests to continue, albeit away from the Chinese embassy where they had started.
There has been no obvious expansion in the size of the protests and the demonstrators have made evident efforts to be civil, for instance by staying on sidewalks.
The website said people at home and abroad had taken advantage of the protests “to oppose the Party and state, incite ill will between ethnic groups, create a divide in Vietnam-China relations and gather forces to make political instability”.
Vnexpress reported that the Hanoi government said it encouraged people to participate in patriotic movements and contribute to the protection of national sovereignty, but that they do so “within the framework of institutions and laws”.
On Aug. 6 the Hanoi police chief told a news conference there was no policy of arresting demonstrators or suppressing the protests.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan also claim sovereignty over portions of the South China Sea.
Public demonstrations are rare in Vietnam. Police in Ho Chi Minh City brought the curtain down on the demonstrations after just two anti-China marches on Sundays in June. (Reporting by John Ruwitch; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)