Hundreds of young Vietnamese, angered by what they called ‘Chinese invasion of Vietnam lands’ turned out for a rare protest in front of the Chinese embassy in Hanoi, June 5.
The demonstrations in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City followed a formal protest lodged by Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs against recent incidents in the South China Sea in which Vietnam accused Chinese naval ships of using weapons to threaten Vietnamese fishermen in the area of the Spratly Islands and cutting the cables of a Vietnamese ship conducting seismic research about 120km off Vietnam’s south-central coast on May 26.
While the protests in Hanoi didn’t find any mention in the Chinese media, the region has been witnessing escalating tensions with China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all claiming territories in the South China Sea.
Vietnam was not the only country accusing China of transgression. Filipino President Benigno Aquino on Friday told reporters that China trespassed into the Philippine’s territorial waters on seven different incidents in less than four months.
The Vietnam protests come on the heels of US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, pledging on Saturday, at a regional security meet in Singapore, the expansion of American military presence across Asia and the Pacific to ‘protect allies and safeguard shipping lanes’. The US expressed willingness on strengthening ties with its traditional allies while warning that ‘clashes may erupt in the South China Sea unless nations with conflicting territorial claims adopt a mechanism to settle disputes peacefully’.
The islands at the centre of the long-running dispute are the Paracel and Spratly islands, both potentially resource-rich outcrops that straddle strategic shipping lanes.
The region is observed by many as a possible flash point in the future for US-China military rivalry.