Over the weekend, more than a hundred people were arrested during sometimes violent demonstrations in Vietnam. The protests followed a government proposal to create Special Economic Zones, but the real issue was China.
The idea was to grant outside investors 99 year leases in three specific areas.
Hanoi saw the zones as mini-Singapores that would spur economic growth, but protesters saw a sell-out. Those outside investors would be mostly Chinese, they said, and those 99 year leases amounted to a transfer of Vietnamese territory.
It did not help that one of the zones was to be on Van Don, an island close to the Chinese border, where a famous Vietnamese victory concluded.
In the year 1288, Vietnamese forces defeated Chinese invaders dispatched by the emperor Kublai Khan at the Battle of Bach Dang. The ingenious tactics of General Tran Hung Dao included iron-tipped stakes placed in the bottom of a river that emerged at low tide to impale Chinese ships. A fresh fleet sent to rescue the survivors was attacked and sunk at Van Don. The battle ended a thousand years of Chinese domination, a millennium punctuated by rebellions and brief periods of Vietnamese self-rule.
One sign at this past weekend’s protests read “No leasing land to China even for one day.” Demonstrations were reported in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and in Binh Thuan province, where the People’s Committee Headquarters was pelted with Molotov cocktails and rocks.
Vietnam’s National Assembly agreed to defer debate on the proposal until later this year.