A Sea of Storms
Viet Nam's provocative actions not only disrespect China's sovereignty, but also jeopardize order in the region
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Cover Stories Series 2014> Vietnam's Questionable Stance> Opinion
UPDATED: May 27, 2014 NO. 22 MAY 29, 2014
Viet Nam's No-Win Game
By Lan Xinzhen

Recent days have witnessed serious violence against foreign investors and businesses in Viet Nam, under the guise of anti-China protests. Victims included investors from China's mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea. A rampage of arson, destruction and looting in and around factories has led to casualties and loss of property. These riots have affected Viet Nam's international image, weakening foreign investors and tourists' confidence in the country. It has also shown that the disputes over the South China Sea grew more complicated with the interference of outside forces.

Seemingly, the riots result from China's construction of a floating oil rig near the Xisha Islands. However, there are other factors at play. First, as part of the United States' pivot to Asia policy, Barack Obama visited four Eastern Asian countries, including the Philippines and Japan, which now have tense ties with China, giving an impression that the United States is creating a strategic encirclement to contain China. Encouraged by such developments, countries like Viet Nam that have disputes with China over the South China Sea have begun to make moves. Soon after the Philippines arrested 11 Chinese fishermen in the South China Sea, Viet Nam sent its naval ships to interfere with the construction of China's oil rig there.

During a meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers held on May 10, a declaration on the South China Sea, which aggressively singled out China, was issued for the first time. The Vietnamese Government believed that it had won support from other ASEAN countries.

Anti-government organizations in Viet Nam should accept some responsibility for the casualties and damage. In the past, anti-China protests were limited to the capital city of Hanoi and the commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City, and a small number of people participated. This time, however, the protests have spread to the country's northern, central and southern areas. Not only in Viet Nam, but in Tokyo and some European cities, protests by Vietnamese were also staged. It seems that they are protesting against China, but in fact the Vietnamese Government is their real foe.

Also, we should not neglect the role of international forces conspiring to disrupt China's peaceful development and those that seek to do the same in China's neighboring countries.

The Vietnamese Government surely has its own inescapable responsibility for this wave of riots. The distance from the oil rig to China's Xisha Islands is only 17 nautical miles. According to international laws, the waters fall into the category of China contiguous zone as it is within 20 nautical miles of land belonging to the country. Moreover, the exploration and construction of the oil rig have been going on for more than a decade. It's unwise for the Vietnamese Government to take provocative actions at this time by sending more than 60 ships to damage the Chinese oil rig, and even allowing anti-China riots to continue for days without any intervention.

These riots will bring about negative impact on Viet Nam's image. which will discourage international investors and tourists. A large amount of what Viet Nam has achieved during its own reform and opening-up process can be attributed to a large amount of foreign investment and its tourism industry. Chinese investments and tourists have contributed to more than 10 percent of Viet Nam's GDP. Vietnamese factories rely heavily on raw materials from China. The riots have caused serious casualties and property loss for Chinese working in Viet Nam and severely harmed the spirit of cooperation between the two countries. It is the responsibility of the Vietnamese Government to punish the rioters.

In the early 1980s, China and Viet Nam had a conflict along their border. Later, their bilateral relationship began to improve. In October 2013, during his visit to Viet Nam, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang stressed the new leadership's emphasis on the China-Viet Nam relationship, with the reaching of onshore and offshore cooperative agreements. The bilateral relationship between the countries has finally become relatively stable.

The recent riots will inevitably harm the bilateral relationship between the two countries and also the economic development of some areas. Viet Nam should return to China's proposed path of "shelving differences and seeking joint development." Disputes should be resolved through negotiations.

Email us at: lanxinzhen@bjreview.com

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