China Fuels Vietnam’s Protest Movement

protests in Vietnam; China's President Xi Jinping meets Vietnamese Premier Nguyen Phu Trong

Vietnam has a long and troubled history with China. After the chill caused by the 1979 Chinese invasion of Vietnam and subsequent tussles over the South China Sea, the two nations normalized relations in 1991 for cross-border trade and diplomacy. Still, the Vietnamese people are not so quick to forget as indicated by unprecedented protests during summer of 2018 over a proposal to designate three special economic zones in sensitive areas with 99-year leases that would likely land with Chinese corporations. “Vietnamese leadership today walks a tightrope of balancing official condemnation of Chinese actions in the South China Sea with a pragmatic approach to trade and investment cooperation,” explains journalist and filmmaker Tom Fawthrop. “June’s mass protests reflected sentiment that Vietnamese people no longer trust their government to achieve the right balance with Chinese investment projects often tainted by corruption, lack of transparency and land-grabbing.” Protests united anti-communist dissidents and former government officials alike, forcing the government to delay the law’s passage until May 2019. Fawthrop concludes that Vietnamese leaders must develop a vision for development and a strategy for protecting the nation’s culture and independence from China’s regional hegemony. – YaleGlobal