Vietnam protesters enraged over China deep-water drilling
By Cat Barton, AFP May 12, 2014, 12:03 am TWN
HANOI--Protesters staged one of Vietnam's largest ever anti-China demonstrations Sunday, decrying Beijing's deployment of a deep-water drilling rig in contested waters as territorial tensions soar.
Some 1,000 people, from war veterans to students, waved banners saying "China don't steal our oil" and "Silence is cowardly" — a dig at Hanoi's handling of the dispute — and sang patriotic songs in a park opposite the Chinese Embassy.
"This is the largest anti-Chinese demonstration I have ever seen in Hanoi," said war veteran Dang Quang Thang, 74.
"Our patience has limits. We are here to express the will of the Vietnamese people to defend our territory at all costs. We are ready to die to protect our nation," he told AFP.
Hundreds of plain clothes and uniformed police set up barricades to prevent protesters approaching the Chinese Embassy compound but made no move to break up the rowdy demonstration, even though the communist regime normally tightly controls any public expression of discontent.
The two countries are locked in long-standing territorial disputes in the South China Sea over the Paracel and Spratly islands, which both claim, and often trade diplomatic barbs over oil exploration and fishing rights in the contested waters.
Tensions between the communist neighbors have risen sharply since China unilaterally announced in early May it would move a deep-water drilling rig into disputed waters — a move the United States has described as "provocative."
Vietnam said China's decision was "illegal," demanded the rig be withdrawn, and dispatched vessels to the area — which it claims were subsequently attacked and rammed by Chinese ships.
"I think that escalation is possible," analyst Nguyen Quang A told AFP.
Message to Beijing
Vietnam has alternated between tolerating anti-China rallies and violently breaking them up. The communist regime is wary of public gatherings that could threaten its authoritarian rule.
The leadership uses public protest as a means of expressing extreme discontent with Beijing, said Professor Jonathan London at City University of Hong Kong.
"Hanoi is well aware that permitting this kind of activity is a clear message to Beijing (and is also) keenly aware and anxious about maintaining social order," he said.
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