VIETNAM’S RELATIONS WITH CHINA

VIETNAM’S RELATIONS WITH CHINA

Even though Vietnamese culture has been greatly influenced by China and China helped Vietnam in their fight against the United States in the 1960s, China and Vietnam have traditionally been enemies. See Vietnamese History.

After relations between the Soviet Union and China soured, the Chinese were afraid that the Soviet Union would use Vietnam and Laos to harass China from the south. These fears were eased when Vietnam left Cambodia in 1989 and the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. It is ironic that the Vietnam War was fought in part to contain China because today the Vietnamese want the Americans to contain China.

Vietnam and China fought a fierce one month war in 1979 after 250,000 ethnic Chinese in Vietnam fled persecution and Vietnam invaded Cambodia and ousted the Beijing-backed Khmer Rouge. China invaded to "teach the Vietnamese a lesson." The war was an embarrassment for China's People's Liberation Army who were thoroughly trounced and suffered as many as 20,000 casualties in two weeks of fierce fighting.

Before, during and after the 1979 Vietnamese-Chinese border war, there was an anti-Chinese pogrom in Vietnam, forcing many of the country's most talented entrepreneurs—who were ethnic Chinese—to flee Vietnam. country. In 1979 some 300,000 boat people fled Vietnam. Many of them were persecuted ethnic Chinese who sailed to Hong Kong. Many ethnic Chinese that fled Vietnam now reside in Kunming in southern China.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, ties between China and Vietnam have improved. Vietnam and China normalized diplomatic ties in 1991. Trade between the two countries is booming and Vietnamese leaders of China have visited China and Chinese leaders have visited Vietnam. China has helped renovate the rail line between Vietnam and China. In January 2000, China and Vietnam signed a treaty defining a common land border. However, the countries both claim sovereignty over the Spratly and Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, and this dispute is a potential source of renewed tension. [Source: Library of Congress]

Ideological affinities are driving improved relations with China, and trade between the nations reached $2 billion in 2000 and soared to $7.2 billion in 2004. But despite improved relations, Vietnam remains suspicious of China’s intentions. Two way trade was $16.3 billion in 2009, of which $16.5 billion was exports from China to Vietnam, an increase of 8.5 percent from 2008. Vietnam imports mostly chemicals, machinery, petroleum and steel from China. In November 2008, a Chinese naval ship made the first ever port of call between China and Vietnam when it visited Danang.

Vietnam wants to avoid economic dependence on China. Between 2000 and 2009, Vietnam’s exports to China increased 2.6 times while its imports from China posted a 9.4-fold growth. Vietnam hopes to reduce its dependance on China by joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), building nuclear power plants, accelerating rare earth development, upgrading local industries and upgrading infrastructure.

According to Human Rights Watch: Vietnam’s complicated relationship with China plays a key role in both domestic and foreign affairs. Domestically, the government has been increasingly criticized on nationalist grounds by many activists and some retired military officials for weak responses to what is widely seen in Vietnam as China’s aggressive behavior in the disputed Spratly and Paracel Islands. The government in 2011 worked to silence this increasingly public and audible anti-China chorus. Internationally, the government has attempted to increase cooperation with the US, India, Japan, and neighboring Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries as a regional counter-balance China’s influence. [Source: Human Rights Watch, World Report 2012]

History of Vietnam’s Love-Hate Relations with China

Andrew Forbes of the Asia Times wrote: “For more than 2,000 years, Vietnam's development as a nation has been marked by one fixed and immutable factor - the proximity of China. The relationship between the two countries is in many ways a family affair, with all the closeness of shared values and bitterness of close rivalries. No country in Southeast Asia is culturally closer to China than Vietnam, and no other country in the region has spent so long fending off Chinese domination, often at a terrible cost in lives, economic development and political compromise. [Source: Andrew Forbes, Asia Times, April 26, 2007 ><]

“China has been Vietnam's blessing and Vietnam's curse. It remains an intrusive cultural godfather, the giant to the north that is "always there". Almost a thousand years of Chinese occupation, between the Han conquest of Nam Viet in the 2nd century B.C. and the reassertion of Vietnamese independence as Dai Viet in AD 967, marked the Vietnamese so deeply that they became, in effect, an outpost of Chinese civilization in Southeast Asia. ><

“While the other countries of Indochina are Theravada Buddhist, sharing cultural links with South Asia, Vietnam derived its predominant religion - a mix of Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism popularly known as tam giao or "Three Religions"- from China. Until the introduction of romanized quoc ngu script in the 17th century, Vietnamese scholars wrote in Chinese characters or in chu nho, a Vietnamese derivative of Chinese characters. Over the centuries, Vietnam developed as a smaller version of the Middle Kingdom, a centralized, hierarchical state ruled by an all-powerful emperor living in a Forbidden City based on its namesake in Beijing and administered by a highly educated Confucian bureaucracy. ><

“Both countries are deeply conscious of the cultural ties that bind them together, and each is still deeply suspicious of the other. During the long centuries of Chinese occupation, the Vietnamese enthusiastically embraced many aspects of Chinese civilization, while at the same time fighting with an extraordinary vigor to maintain their cultural identity and regain their national independence. For their part, the Chinese recognized the Vietnamese as a kindred people, to be offered the benefits of higher Chinese civilization and, ultimately, the rare privilege of being absorbed into the Chinese polity. On the other hand, as near family, they were to be punished especially severely if they rejected Chinese standards or rebelled against Chinese control. ><

“It's instructive, then, that in his 1987 novel Fired Gold Vietnamese author Nguyen Huy Thiep writes, "The most significant characteristics of this country are its smallness and weakness. She is like a virgin girl raped by Chinese civilization. The girl concurrently enjoys, despises and is humiliated by the rape." This Chinese belief that Vietnam is not just another nation, but rather a member of the family - almost Chinese, aware of the blessings of Chinese civilization, but somehow stubbornly refusing, century after century, to become Chinese - has persisted down to the present day. ><

In 1946, Ho Chi Minh, said warned the Vietnamese against using Chinese Nationalist troops in the north as a buffer against the return of the French: "You fools! Don't you realize what it means if the Chinese remain? Don't you remember your history? The last time the Chinese came, they stayed a thousand years. The French are foreigners. They are weak. Colonialism is dying. The white man is finished in Asia. But if the Chinese stay now, they will never go. As for me, I prefer to sniff French shit for five years than to eat Chinese shit for the rest of my life." Yet Ho was an ardent admirer of Chinese civilization, fluent in Mandarin, a skilled calligrapher who wrote Chinese poetry, a close friend and colleague of Chinese leaders Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai. Ho wasn't as much anti-Chinese as he was pro-Vietnamese. It was his deep understanding of and respect for China that enabled him to recognize, clearly and definitively, the menace that "a close family relationship" with the giant to the north posed, and continues to pose, for Vietnam's independence and freedom.

China and Vietnam During the Vietnam War

During the Second Indochina War, Chinese propaganda stressed that Vietnam and China were "as close as the lips and the teeth". But reality on the ground was much different. The Chinese claimed that the Soviet Union would betray Vietnam. Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai told North Vietnamese leader Le Duan that the Soviets would lie to them to improve its relationship with the United States. According to Zhou this policy was enacted following Alexei Kosygin's departure from Vietnam in 1965. Le Duan did not accept this view and at the 23rd Party Congress (which China boycotted) he referred to the Soviet Union as a "second motherland". Because of his statement, China immediately began to cut its aid to Vietnam. According to the first secretary at the Soviet embassy to China, the Vietnamese saw the Chinese actions as an attack on them. At the Chinese Communist Party's 45th anniversary, instead of a communique by Ho Chí Minh, Pha.m Van Dong and Le Duan as had happened at the 44th anniversary, the Vietnamese Central Committee offered official greetings, but without signatures from top-level officials. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Relations between the two countries further deteriorated following the China/US rapprochement. The Vietnamese, who were still fighting the Americans, felt betrayed. At the CPV Politburo meeting on 16 July 1971, the Vietnamese agreed that Chinese policy towards the United States was like a "torpedo" directed against Vietnam. Zhou was told by Pha.m Van Dong and Le Duan that US President Richard Nixon's, upcoming visit to China was "against the interests of Vietnam". Later, in November, Pha.m asked the Chinese to cancel Nixon's visit; the Chinese refused. The Vietnamese began to doubt China and they hid information about Vietnam's next planned military offensive. The Sino/US rapprochement did not hurt Sino/Vietnamese relations in the long run, because the Soviet Union also eventually reconciled with the US. +

Chinese and Vietnamese documents state that relations between them worsened in 1973–75. A Vietnamese document claimed that China hindered the eventual reunification, while Chinese documents claimed that the source of the conflict was Vietnamese policy towards the Spratley and the Paracel Islands. However, the core issue for the Chinese was to minimize Vietnam's cooperation with the Soviets. Increasing Soviet/Vietnamese cooperation left China ambivalent about reunification. +

Deterioration of Relations Between China and Vietnam

The deterioration of Sino-Vietnamese relations was gradual, commencing perhaps most dramatically with Richard M. Nixon's 1972 visit to China (which Hanoi later called the beginning of China's betrayal of Vietnam). China's relations with Vietnam began to deteriorate seriously in the mid-1970s. After Vietnam joined the Soviet-dominated Council for Mutual Economic Cooperation (Comecon) and signed the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union in 1978, China branded Vietnam the "Cuba of the East" and called the treaty a military alliance.

In the mid-1970s the signs of an impending breakdown were barely discernible to outsiders. Until 1977 the Vietnam-Cambodia dispute appeared to the outside world to be purely bilateral and China's strategic considerations seemed only distantly connected to the skirmishes taking place on the Vietnamese-Cambodian border. The Chinese in the 1976-77 period were preoccupied with internal affairs, including the deaths of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, the arrest of Mao's widow, and the return to power of Deng Xiaoping. As the situation between Vietnam and Cambodia deteriorated, the signs of a potential SinoVietnamese rift became clearer the more Cambodia's strategic importance for both China and Vietnam. appeared at risk. Aside from risking the return of the Khmer Rouge, Vietnam, viewed a disengagement from Cambodia as paramount to inviting China to create a two-front threat by establishing a foothold on a second Vietnamese frontier. In China's view, Vietnam's sustained presence in Cambodia not only precluded such an accomplishment, but conferred territory, once administered by an acknowledged Chinese ally, to the authority of an historic Asian adversary that was closely allied with a contemporary superpower rival, the Soviet Union. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Vietnam's and China's shared modern experiences, namely their common exploitation by colonial powers and adaptations to communist ideology, did little to alter Vietnam's historical view of China, which was colored by lengthy periods of Chinese conquest and domination. During the Second Indochina War, China acted as North Vietnam's closest ally, but, according to later Vietnamese statements, the Chinese tried to dominate the relationship from the beginning. Vietnam's desperate need for Chinese assistance forced it to maintain good relations with Beijing for the duration of the war, despite Vietnamese suspicions that China's ultimate purpose was to weaken Vietnam. *

After the end of the Second Indochina War, underlying tensions between the two countries surfaced, and in 1978 a number of issues converged to bring the relationship to the breaking point. In addition to the growing dispute in Cambodia, these issues included territorial disagreements and Vietnam's treatment of its own largest minority group, the Hoa or ethnic Chinese, who numbered nearly 2 million. *

The territorial dispute involved primarily delineation of territorial waters in the Gulf of Tonkin and sovereignty over two archipelagos in the South China Sea, the Paracel and the Spratly Islands (the Xisha and the Nansha in Chinese; the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa in Vietnamese). A border dispute on land (over fewer than sixty square kilometers) was responsible for the relatively steady occurrence of low-level border clashes involving crossborder violations and the exchange of small-arms fire. In 1958 the two governments decided to defer settling their border differences until after victory had been achieved in the South. *

Disagreement over territorial waters in the Gulf of Tonkin stemmed from agreements reached between China and France in 1887, stipulating a territorial limit of no more three nautical miles. These agreements had been adequate until 1973, when Hanoi announced to Beijing its intention to negotiate contracts with foreign firms for the exploration of oil in the Gulf of Tonkin. The disputed islands in the South China Sea assumed importance only after it was disclosed that they were near the potential sites of substantial offshore oil deposits. In January 1974, Chinese military units seized islands in the Paracels occupied by South Vietnamese armed forces, and Beijing claimed sovereignty over the Spratlys. Following their conquest of South Vietnam in the spring of 1975, units of the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) nevertheless moved to occupy the Spratly Islands previously held by the Saigon regime. *

1979 Chinese-Vietnamese Border War

In February 1979 the Chinese invaded Vietnam with a force of more that 500,000 men to "teach the Vietnamese a lesson." The countries fought a brief but intense 17-day war with Chinese foray quickly rebuffed. The war was an embarrassment for China's People's Liberation Army who were thoroughly trounced and suffered as many as 20,000 casualties in two weeks of fierce fighting. The Chinese were expected to roll over the Vietnamese but they got bogged down as a result of communications problems. Vietnamese general Vo van Kiet told Time magazine: "we won over China in the border war, not because of comparative advantage in military force. We won the war because we had the right to defend our country."

Andrew Forbes of the Asia Times wrote: “Acting on Deng's orders, the Chinese army invaded Vietnam in 1979, capturing five northern provincial capitals before systematically demolishing them and withdrawing to China after administering a symbolic "lesson". But who taught a lesson to whom? Beijing sought to force Hanoi to withdraw its frontline forces from Cambodia, but the Vietnamese didn't engage these forces in the struggle, choosing instead to confront the Chinese with irregulars and provincial militia. Casualties were about equal, and China lost considerable face, as well as international respect, as a result of its invasion. Over the millennia, actions like this have taught the Vietnamese a recurring lesson about China. It's there, it's big, and it won't go away, so appease it without yielding whenever possible, and fight it with every resource available whenever necessary. [Source: Andrew Forbes, Asia Times, April 26, 2007 ><]

China mounted a "self-defense counterattack" along virtually the entire Sino-Vietnamese border in a limited campaign that involved ground forces only. The conflict ended on March 5, when Chinese leaders declared its "lesson" finished and announced that their objectives had been met, and proceeded to withdraw their forces. Despite the Chinese boast of having shattered the myth of Vietnam's invincibility, the invasion effected little more than the diversion of some Vietnamese troops from Cambodia. The bulk of the resistance reportedly was offered by local Vietnamese border units and regional forces. Outnumbered, they performed well, exposing significant weaknesses in Chinese tactics, strategy, logistics, equipment, and communications. In the final analysis, the results were far from conclusive. Peace negotiations were initiated following the disengagement of forces, but broke down several times before being discontinued in December 1979. [Source: Library of Congress]

The two-week campaign devastated northern Vietnam and briefly threatened Hanoi. Both China (40,000) and Vietnam (over 20,000) suffered heavy losses. Peace talks broke down in December 1979 and both China (400,000) and Vietnam (600,000) began a major build-up of forces along the border. Sporadic fighting on the border occurred throughout the 1980s and China threatened to force Vietnam's exit from Kampuchea.

See History

China and Vietnam Relations After the China- Vietnam War

After the war, both China and Vietnam reorganized their border defenses. The border war strengthened Soviet-Vietnamese relations. The Soviet military role in Vietnam increased during the 1980s as the Soviets provided arms to Vietnam; moreover, Soviet ships enjoyed access to the harbors at Danang and Cam Ranh Bay, and Soviet reconnaissance aircraft operated out of Vietnamese airfields. Low-level conflict continued along the Sino-Vietnamese border as each side conducted artillery shelling and probed to gain high spots in the mountainous border terrain. Border incidents increased in intensity during the rainy season, when Beijing attempted to ease Vietnamese pressure against Cambodian resistance fighters. In 1986 China deployed twenty-five to twenty-eight divisions and Vietnam thirty-two divisions along their common border. Nevertheless, most observers doubted that China would risk another war with Vietnam in the near future. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The Cambodian crisis, too, remained stalemated, and Vietnamese dependence upon the Soviet Union continued. In 1987 tensions along the Sino-Vietnamese border erupted in sporadic fighting. China believed that the Cambodian conflict would serve Chinese interests by draining the Vietnamese economically and weakening Hanoi. China's sustained pressure on Vietnam's northern border would also tax Vietnam militarily, while satisfying ASEAN's requests for Chinese assistance in the conflict and providing Chinese armed forces with invaluable combat experience. Consequently, Vietnam's dry-season campaigns to eliminate CGDK resistance base camps along the Thai-Cambodian border were generally matched by corresponding Chinese acts along the SinoVietnamese border. China issued vague threats to Vietnam of a "second lesson" in the mid-1980s but as of 1987 had not acted on these threats. *

China imposed the removal of Vietnamese troops from Cambodia as a precondition to improved Sino-Soviet relations, and diplomatic activity in late 1986 indicated that Vietnam might mend its differences with China in the event the Soviets moved closer to the Chinese. Despite Hanoi's desire to ease tensions with Beijing, however, it was not willing to do so at the expense of its position in Cambodia. *

China-Vietnam Visits, Flag Mistakes and Hotlines

In March 2009, Vietnam and China have signed an agreement to establish a hotline between the countries' leaders for discussions of urgent disagreements, Vietnamese state media said. A few years earlier, the communist party secretary-generals of Vietnam and China also established a hotline.

In 2009, AFP reported: “ China and Vietnam plan to set up a defense hotline as part of closer military links, official media reported, in the latest effort to publicly ease tensions after a maritime dispute. The two sides "agreed to promote bilateral defense cooperation" at their second annual security dialogue held in Beijing, the English-language Vietnam News reported. The newspaper said China and Vietnam would expand ties to "new fields", among them the exchange of military delegations, including military students, as well as establishing the hotline between their defense ministries. And in 2009, the foreign ministries signed an agreement to create a similar link between the neighbours' "leaders", although its status is unclear. [Source: AFP, August 31, 2011]

In October 2005, Hu Jintao, the President of China, visited Hanoi on three-day official goodwill visit to Vietnam. Xinhua reported: Hu is in Vietnam as guest of Nong Duc Manh, general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam, and Tran Duc Luong, president of Vietnam. During the visit, Hu will meet Vietnamese leaders and exchange views on bilateral relations and other issues of common concern. In a written statement delivered upon arrival in Hanoi Hu reviewed the Sino-Vietnamese traditional friendship, which he said is the common treasure for both sides. He said guided by the principles of long-term stability, future orientation, good neighborly friendship and all-round cooperation, China and Vietnam are continuing their friendship with the determination to be good neighbors, friends, comrades and partners forever. Hu said he believes that his visit will promote friendship and mutual trust between the two parties, the two countries and their peoples, as well as the reciprocal cooperation and common development of the two sides. [Source: Xinhua, October 31, 2005]

In December 2011, AFP reported: “Vietnam made an embarrassing gaffe this week when receiving China's Vice President Xi Jinping [the present leader of China] by displaying Chinese flags bearing one star too many. The trip was designed to improve strained relations that deteriorated following recent tensions over the disputed South China Sea. But Xi was greeted with flags picturing six stars, while the official emblem of the People's Republic of China has only five — one large yellow star surrounded by four smaller ones. A similar incident occurred in October, when the six-star flag was used by Vietnam's national television broadcaster while mentioning a visit by the Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong to China.[Source: AFP, December 23, 2011]

When asked about the latest incident by reporters, China's foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said: "The Vietnam side has made an explanation to the Chinese embassy in Vietnam and said it was a technical error". Official media of both sides did not mention the gaffe, but exiled Vietnamese websites contained a number of comments. "We must end the activities of those selling the Vietnamese fatherland, looking to make Vietnam the fifth star of China," lamented an anonymous comment on the dissident site "Dan Lam Bao" ("Citizen journalism"). "The Vietnamese Communist Party wants to become a second-class Chinese citizen. This is a damned flag for the Vietnamese people," said another.

Spratly Islands

Vietnam has repeatedly said it wants to settle the Spratly Islands dispute using peaceful means while pressing for a multi-national approach to settling the dispute. Conversely China insists the dispute should be resolved through bilateral negotiations.

Vietnam has been strengthening its navy, which includes the deployment of a submarine fleet, and forging stronger relations with the United States, India and other countries.

Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines also claim all or part of the potentially oil-rich Spratlys. All claimants except Brunei have troops based on the archipelago of more than 100 islets, reefs and atolls, which have a total land mass of less than five square kilometers.

Vietnam Sends Monks to Disputed Spratly Islands

In 2012, AFP reported: Vietnam will send six Buddhist monks to the disputed Spratly islands, a senior monk ahead of the anniversary of a bloody battle with China over the hotly contested archipelago. The monks will reestablish three temples, which were abandoned by Vietnam in 1975 but have been recently renovated as part of the communist country's drive to assert its territorial claims over islands."Our plan to go to Truong Sa (Spratly) Islands was approved earlier this month by Khanh Hoa province officials and we will depart as soon as the navy can take us there," Venerable Thich Giac Nghia told AFP. [Source: AFP, March 14, 2012 >><<]

“The six monks, who all volunteered for the posting, intend to stay for up to a year on one of the larger islands following a request from its Vietnamese community — mostly military staff and small-scale farmers and fishermen, he said. "Most of the (Vietnamese) people there are Buddhist. We will try to improve their spiritual lives and encourage them to overcome daily hardships," he said The announcement came the day before the 24th anniversary of a March 14, 1988 Chinese attack on Gac Ma Island — another of the larger Spratly Islands under Vietnamese military control — which killed 64 Vietnamese soldiers. >><<

Vietnam Says Archaeology Proves its Spratlys Claim

In 2001, Reuters reported: “Vietnam’s official media said there was extensive archaeological proof of Hanoi's claim to the disputed islands. A front-page article in Friday's Lao Dong (Labor) newspaper said the Vietnam Archaeological Institute had discovered many Vietnamese ceramics from the 13th -14th and 17th -18th centuries on Truong Sa Lon (Big Spratly) island during excavations from 1996-2000. [Source: Reuters, February 16, 2001 *-*]

"This confirms the early and continuous presence of the Vietnamese on the (Spratly) archipelago," the article said. The paper went on to quote the institute director Ha Van Tan as saying: "We have found clear scientific evidence of maritime activity of Vietnamese residents in early times. "This is clear evidence contributing to the defense and protection of national sovereignty in the land and water territories." *-*

“The day before China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao said Beijing was "seriously concerned" over news reports saying Vietnam should set up governmental bodies on Spratlys and had demanded clarification. "Any other country's unilateral actions on the Nansha Islands constitute an infringement upon China's sovereignty and are illegal and void," he said. *-*

Chinese Police Kills Nine Vietnamese Accused of Robbing Chinese Fishing Boats

In January 2005, Chinese police fired at Vietnamese fishing boats in the Gulf of Tonkin, killing nine men. China claimed the sailors on three Vietnamese boats robbed Chinese fishermen and fired on public security boats and police returned fire killing several Vietnamese and seized one of the ships, along with eight sailors. Vietnamese state media said the Chinese ships opened fire on the two fishing boats without warning.

Associated Press reported: “ China has detained eight Vietnamese after a shooting incident between boats from the two countries left several Vietnamese dead and injured Chinese maritime police, the government said. The incident in the Gulf of Tonkin was sparked when three Vietnamese boats robbed and shot at a Chinese fleet from the island province of Hainan, the official Xinhua News Agency said, citing Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan. Kong said the Chinese boats were in China's waters when they were attacked. Maritime police rushed to the site and "were forced to take necessary actions" when the Vietnamese boats opened fire, Kong said. "They shot dead several robbers and seized one ship and eight robbers," he said. "They also confiscated some weapons and ammunition." The Xinhua report did not say how many Vietnamese were killed. [Source: AP, January 15, 2005 ~~]

“Vietnamese officials, however, have said Chinese coast guards fired on two Vietnamese fishing boats in separate attacks, killing nine Vietnamese and wounding six others. They have asked that the Chinese maritime authorities be punished for their "wrongful acts," saying that the Vietnamese boats were in waters shared by the two sides. Kong said the Vietnamese "confessed they had carried out four other armed robberies aimed at Chinese fishing boats in the gulf." ~~

According to a Vietnamese blogger: “On 8 January 2005, China's naval forces carried out one of the bloodiest attacks on Vietnamese fishermen ever in the South China Sea. The victims came from Thanh Hoa, one of the poorer provinces in Vietnam. On 8 January 2005, our family members were fishing in Vietnamese waters, where for hundreds of years, generations of our forefathers have gone to fish for a living. Suddenly many boats belonging to China’s naval forces illegally entered the territorial waters and shot at two of our fishing boats causing 9 people to die, and 8 others injured. In addition, they took 8 more back to China with them. According to the investigation by the border patrol of Thanh Hoa province, the boats were inside Vietnamese territorial waters when they were attacked. The boats at that time were located at 18’16’’ N and 107’6" E, which is 10 nautical miles from the border mark of the common fishing water between Vietnam and China. The victims captured were very ill treated; for example, they were not given good, were severely beaten, were forced to give depositions through harsh interrogations as criminals day and night without a translator, and were given medical care as if they were little more than animals… Death certificates given by both China and Vietnam left blank the "cause of death". [Source: paracelspratlyislands.blogspot.jp]

There have been other reports of Vietnamese robbing Chinese fishing boats. In January 2007, Wang Hongjiang of Xinhua wrote: “China has asked Vietnam to seriously investigate a recent robbery of some of its fishing vessels by Vietnamese fishermen in the Beibu Gulf. "China is highly concerned about the case, and has made representations to Vietnam and required the Vietnamese side to seriously investigate and handle the case, and at the same time, take effective measures to avoid further cases," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu. According to Jiang, on January 7, some fishing vessels from south China's Hainan Province were robbed by armed Vietnamese fishermen amid normal operations in the Beibu Gulf, situated in the northern part of the South China Sea, leading to lost property. She said Vietnam promised to coordinate with China in the investigation into the robbery. "We are ready to make joint efforts with the Vietnamese side to safeguard stability in the Beibu Gulf and the immediate interests of the fishermen living along the gulf." [Source: Wang Hongjiang, Xinhua, January 17, 2007]

China Imposes Fishing Ban in “Vietnamese Waters”

In June 2009, Nga Pham of the BBC wrote: “Vietnam has called on China to stop preventing Vietnamese fishermen from working in what Hanoi says are its territorial waters. China's ban on fishing in the South China Sea was "interfering" with Vietnamese fishermen, Hanoi said. This is the second time in three weeks that Vietnam has spoken out over the fishing ban and the increase in arrests and fines by Chinese naval patrols. [Source: Nga Pham, BBC, June 8, 2009]

China has been enforcing an annual fishing moratorium since 1999 in order to conserve stocks, but this year's has been seen by many as extremely tough. The increased Chinese naval patrols "have caused indignation among the public, bringing no benefits to bilateral relations", Vietnam's Deputy Foreign Minister Ho Xuan Son told Chinese ambassador Sun Guoxiang, according to the Vietnamese foreign ministry's website. Mr Son also asked the Chinese authorities to "stop operations that prevent Vietnamese fishermen from going about their daily business" in areas that Vietnam claimed as under its sovereignty.

Vietnamese newspapers in recent weeks have been running campaigns against what they call the "Chinese starvation of Vietnam's fishing industry". They have described how thousands of fishermen in central provinces have stayed in port for fear of being arrested, fined or even shot at by Chinese patrol boats. Witnesses have been quoted as saying that their boats were chased and attacked by foreign vessels. The latest incident reportedly took place two weeks ago when a Vietnamese fishing boat was hit and sunk, but the fishermen escaped. Nguyen Viet Thang, chairman of Vietnam's Fisheries Association, said: "Our people have always been in those areas but the Chinese now use the moratorium to arrest them."

Vietnamese Fishermen Detained by China

In June 2009, Associated Press reported: “China has released 25 Vietnamese fishermen after holding them 10 days for allegedly violating its fishing ban, but 12 others are still being held until they pay a fine, a Vietnam official said. The 25 arrived safely on their two fishing boats in central Quang Ngai province, said provincial coast guard command spokesman Ha Thanh Ca. All 37 fishermen were operating near the disputed Paracel islands, Ca said. The largely uninhabited islands in the South China Sea, claimed by both Vietnam and China, straddle busy sea lanes and are believed to have large oil and natural gas reserves. [Source: Associated Press, June 26 2009]

China last month imposed a fishing ban on some parts of the South China Sea, saying it was to prevent seafood resources exhaustion. The ban lasts until Aug. 1. In March, China dispatched a converted naval vessel to patrol fishing grounds surrounding the disputed islands, about 400 miles (640 kilometers) south of Hong Kong.The fishermen were intercepted by Chinese navy on June 16 and were detained on the Paracels, Ca said. He said the Chinese navy decided to fine the fishermen a total of 210,000 Chinese yuan ($31,000). The fishermen did not have the money, so the Chinese navy continues to hold 12 "as hostage" and will only release them when fines are paid, he said. Ca said the Chinese navy has detained other Vietnamese fishermen in the past. "China claimed that the fishermen violated their sovereignty and fishing ban," Ca said by telephone from Quang Ngai. "But these sea areas are under Vietnamese sovereignty. Vietnamese fishermen have been operating in these areas for many generations."

In March 2012, AFP reported: “Chinese authorities are holding two Vietnamese boats and 21 crew who were detained while fishing near the disputed Paracel Islands, an official said. They were picked up March 3 and have been held in custody since, Pham Thi Huong of the People's Committee of Ly Son island in Vietnam's Quang Ngai province told AFP. "The captain spoke to his family and told them the Chinese are demanding 70,000 yuan ($11,000) for their release," she said, adding it was not clear whether this amount was for one or both boats. Officials advised the family not to pay and have asked Hanoi to press for their release, she said. The incident is the latest in a string of diplomatic skirmishes between the neighbours over islands in the South China Sea. In late February, Vietnam claimed China had prevented 11 Vietnamese fishermen from approaching the Paracel Islands to avoid strong winds. [Source: AFP, March 20, 2012]

See China

In April 2012, five Vietnamese Buddhist monks traveled to the Spratlys to teach Buddhism and defend their nation's territorial claim.

Tensions between Vietnam and China hit a low point in the summer of 2011 after Hanoi accused Beijing of interfering with its maritime oil exploration activities. Beijing denied the charge.

Beijing has named the South China Sea one of its "core interests," meaning it could potentially go to war to protect it.

The U.S. has said it has a national interest in ensuring freedom of navigation in the sea, and analysts say Washington is expanding its military presence in Asia to counter China's rising influence.

Hanoi's foreign ministry said China had "seriously violated" Vietnam's sovereignty by allowing a Chinese oil company to open bidding for oil exploration near the Paracel islands.

China 'Fires Flares' at and Rams Vietnamese Boats in South China Sea

In March 2013, the BBC reported: “China says it fired flares, not weapons, at a Vietnamese fishing boat in the South China Sea. The defence ministry said the flares were fired after four boats near the disputed Paracel islands did not heed warnings to leave, Xinhua reports. Vietnam on Monday said a Chinese boat had set one of its fishing boats alight after firing on it. [Source: BBC, March 27, 2013 ><]

A Xinhua news agency report - carried on the defence ministry website - quoted an unidentified Chinese navy official as calling the firing allegations "sheer fabrication". "After the dissuasion by means of whistle-blowing, shouting and hand-flag guiding was of no avail, the Chinese naval vessels fired two red signal shells into the sky as a warning, and the signal shells burned out and extinguished in the air," Xinhua quoted the official as saying. "There is no such things that Chinese vessels fired with weapons or the Vietnamese fishing boats caught fire." China says the Vietnamese boats were illegally fishing in what it says is its territory when the incident occurred on 20 March. ><

A day later Associated Press reported: “Vietnam has accused China of damaging a fishing boat in the latest escalation of tension in the disputed South China Sea.The Foreign Ministry said a Chinese vessel slammed into a Vietnamese fishing boat while it was operating in Vietnamese waters on May 20. It damaged the ship's hull and risked the lives of 15 crew members, it said. Ministry spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi said the Chinese action violated Vietnam's sovereignty and demanded that China severely punish the violators, compensate the fishermen and make sure similar incidents do not occur. [Source: Associated Press, May 28, 2013 +=+]

Chinese Foreign Ministry rejected the charges. "Vietnam's accusations against China are totally untrue. The Vietnamese fishing boat entered waters around China's Xisha islands and fished illegally in violation of China's sovereignty and laws," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said, referring to the Paracel islands. "There is nothing to dispute about China's relevant authorities carrying out normal law enforcement. We demand that Vietnam take concrete measures to educate fishermen to stop fishing illegally." Vietnam said in March that a Chinese naval vessel fired flares that damaging a fishing boat's cabin near the islands. +=+

Protesters Detained at Anti-China Protest in Hanoi

In June 2013, DPA reported: “Dozens of protesters were arrested when around 150 people demonstrated against China in Hanoi. Witnesses said between 30 and 50 people were detained when the crowd started to march around the central Hoan Kiem lake.Protesters were wearing T-shirts and carried placards calling for an end to Chinese aggression in the South China Sea. [Source: DPA, June 2, 2013]

“We are protecting our country so we’re not afraid of anything,” Nguyen Anh Dung said shortly before he was taken away by police. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused Chinese boats of colliding with Vietnamese fishing vessels near the disputed Paracel Islands the previous week. China called the accusations “totally untrue,” saying a Vietnamese fishing boat had entered Chinese waters illegally.

Vietnam and China Work Towards Warmer Ties

Kor Kian Beng wrote in The Straits Times, “A 21-gun salute, a guard of honour and even a group of cheery children waving flags - China clearly spared no efforts in welcoming Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang for his three-day state visit. Beijing's welcome ceremony, and Hanoi’s decision to send its president --- the first Vietnamese leader to visit China since President Xi Jinping took office in March --- reflect a mutual desire to improve the close, but complex and often-strained ties between the communist allies and one-time war foes, say observers. [Source: Kor Kian Beng, The Straits Times, June 21, 2013]

"The pomp and ceremony reveals Xi's personal endorsement for warmer ties," said Singapore-based analyst Euan Graham. He added that Truong's visit also reflects a high-level effort by both sides to "isolate the points of friction" from their relationship.

Ha Noi is worried over Beijing's military assertiveness in the resource-rich sea, which includes the Paracel and Spratly island groups both sides lay claim to. Incidents involving Chinese patrol ships firing at Vietnamese fishermen, most recently last month, have sparked anti-Beijing street protests in Vietnam. In response, Vietnam has triggered worries in China by walking closer with countries like Japan and the United States - not the best of friends with the Chinese.

Said regional security expert Carl Thayer: "Beijing is suspicious that Vietnam is encouraging the US to balance China. Vietnam is ever suspicious about Chinese influence in Vietnam and Chinese actions that challenge Vietnam's claims in the South China Sea." Both sides are thus using Truong's visit to improve the low level of "strategic trust", said Jinan University analyst Zhang Mingliang, a Sino-Asean expert.

But each is doing so for largely different reasons, said analysts. Vietnam is seeking economic gains from China - the world's No. 2 economy - to boost its beleaguered economy. It is aiming to grow 5.5 per cent this year, its third consecutive year of sub-6 per cent growth since 1988. China, in turn, is aiming largely for political benefits, said Xu Liping, a Southeast Asian expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "China wants to show the Sino-Vietnamese way of resolving the South China Sea disputes is a model for others too." Xi urged both sides to seek a "political solution" on the South China Sea and not internationalise it, during talks with Truong.

Some are optimistic that China and Vietnam can improve ties. They have a joint steering committee at the deputy prime minister level that oversees all aspects of their "comprehensive strategic partnership", including inter-party ties. Land borders are demarcated, and a joint fishing area in the Gulf of Tonkin has been set up. Several agreements inked during Truong's visit, like a new naval hotline to resolve fishing incidents in disputed waters, also gives rise to optimism.

Vietnam, China and the United States

Robert D. Kaplan wrote in The Atlantic, “Vietnam is by no means estranged from China...Vietnam is too dependent on and interconnected with China for that. While the U.S. is Vietnam’s largest export market, Vietnam imports more goods from China than from any other country—cotton, machines, fertilizer, pesticide, electronics, leather, a host of other consumer items. The economy there simply couldn’t function without China, even as China, by flooding Vietnam with cheap products, impedes the growth of local manufacturing. Furthermore, Vietnamese officials are impressed with the geographic asymmetry of their situation: as they say, “A distant water can’t put out a nearby fire.” China’s proximity and the fact that the U.S. is half a world away mean that the Vietnamese have to put up with such indignities as the environmental destruction that comes with Chinese bauxite mining of Vietnam’s lush Central Highlands—a project that, like others around the country, employs Chinese workers rather than Vietnamese ones. “We can’t relocate,” Nguyen Tam Chien, a former deputy foreign minister, tells me. “Statistically, we’re one province of China.” [Source: Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic, May 21 2012 <*>]

“The United States sees the world as Vietnam does: threatened by growing Chinese power. The difference is that whereas the United States has many geopolitical interests, Vietnam has only one: to counter China. Because the Soviet Union failed to help Vietnam in 1979, the Vietnamese will never again fully trust a faraway power. Beyond geography, the Vietnamese at a certain fundamental level distrust the United States. One official tells me simply that the U.S. is in decline, a condition worsened by Washington’s continued fixation—despite recent protestations to the contrary—on the Middle East rather than on the rise of China in East Asia. Though such an analysis is self-serving, it may nevertheless be accurate. Then there is the fear that the U.S. will sell out Vietnam for the sake of a warmer relationship with China: Xuan, the foreign-affairs-committee official, specifically mentions Nixon’s opening to China as providing the geostrategic context for China’s invasion of Vietnam. “It can happen again,” he tells me, shaking his head in frustration. One official of the Communist government tells me, “The elephant in the room during our discussions with the Americans is democracy and human rights.” The Vietnamese live in fear that pressure from Congress, the media, and various nongovernmental organizations may one day cause the White House to sell them out the way it has sold out autocratic Asian countries: Uzbekistan and Nepal, for example. “The highest value should be on national solidarity and independence,” Le Chi Dzung, a Foreign Ministry deputy director-general, tells me, trying to explain his country’s political philosophy. “It is the nation, not the individual, that makes you free.” <*>

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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