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Anti-China Protests Spread in Vietnam Over Oil Rig Dispute

Protests have escalated in Vietnam over China’s towing of an oil rig ‘inside’ the territorial waters of Vietnam in the South China Sea. According to Vietnam, the Chinese oil rig known as Haiyang Shiyou 98 is 80 nautical miles inside Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone. The Vietnamese government is calling China to withdraw the rig and its more than 80 escort naval ships.

The two countries have been disputing ownership of the Paracel islands in the South China Sea for many years already but the installation of the oil rig was so far China’s most daring attempt to assert control over the resource-rich waters.

China’s oil rig ignited an explosive protest movement across Vietnam. Many of these actions turned violent when workers burned China-owned factories in the southern provinces. Although many factories turned out to be Taiwanese and Korean investments.

As of May 16, 2014, Friday, authorities reported that 140,000 workers of 300 Taiwanese and Chinese companies in industrial parks had not got back to work yet. Fifteen factories were set on fire. About 140 Chinese nationals suffered injuries.

To control the situation, police officials said they arrested 1,000 persons for causing violence. China, for its part, evacuated many of its citizens out of the country; and it suspended some bilateral agreements it had with Vietnam.

The anti-China sentiment is so popular in Vietnam today that even hotels have placed public notices that they will not receive Chinese guests as long as the oil rig is inside Vietnam waters. This Twitter photo shows a shop with a poster informing potential customers that it does not sell Chinese goods.

The anti-China protests are louder and more widespread in the Internet. Vietnamese netizens used Facebook to create and spread memes criticizing China. Below are some of the widely shared graphics:

'Get out of Vietnam'. From Facebook page of  Vietmeme

‘Get out of Vietnam'. From Facebook page of Vietmeme

“All Vietnamese people are determined to preserve and protect every single piece of our territory.” Notice that the dragon's claws are also protective of Spratly Islands which are being claimed by many countries in the region, including China. Translation by Patrick Sharbaugh

“All Vietnamese people are determined to preserve and protect every single piece of our territory.” Notice that the dragon's claws are also protective of Spratly Islands which are being claimed by many countries in the region, including China. Translation by Patrick Sharbaugh

But many netizens are also apologetic over the violent protests that erupted in many provinces. This meme shows several Vietnamese saying sorry for the violence that killed and injured scores of Chinese citizens:

From Facebook page of Giáo dục quốc phòng.

From Facebook page of Giáo dục quốc phòng.

Patrick Sharbaugh analyzed the online protest and its political impact:

China’s ongoing and escalating provocations in the East Sea may be having the unanticipated consequence of forcing government officials to allow Vietnamese Internet users to express themselves openly as a strategy of consolidating national unity.

But it also means that once this latest flare-up has passed, users there will have had a strong taste of what it is like to feel comfortable with expressing political sentiment online.

Meanwhile, the Vietnam Path Movement is appealing for restraint and the use of non-violence methods in the protests:

Considering that this negative behavior may also stem from a deliberate conspiracy to create stressful conditions for which China can use as an excuse to increase its pressure in this dispute, leading to an unnecessary war between the two countries;

In this context, the Vietnam Path Movement therefore sincerely urges all workers, youths, and people in general, to restrain emotions, to refrain from resorting to violence, and to stop all acts of violence before they can lead to unfortunate consequences for the overall situation.

The conflict is expected to continue between the two neighboring countries since China is firmly asserting that the oil rig will stay until August.

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