Written by Uyen Le-Khuc

What happened?

Anti-China protests are breaking out in many parts of Vietnam, as a result of the Vietnamese government’s drafted law to lease three special economic zones to China for 99 years. The three economic zones are Vân Đồn (in northern Vietnam), North Vân Phong (in the central), and Phú Quốc (in the south), which were opened in hope of attracting more incentives from foreign investors. Until now, all public protests have been quickly quelled by the police – protesters have been aggressively dispersed, and even arrested. In response to the public ire, the government said on Saturday that it had asked the National Assembly to delay a vote on the draft law to allow for more research on the legislation.

Growing the economy at the possible expense of civil liberty and sovereignty

This is one of the few times protests are occurring in such a unanimous manner, with a whopping crowd of people roaming the streets of economic hubs like Ho Chi Minh city, to smaller provinces like Binh Thuan. The increasing anger from the public to the government shows a growing crack in the relationship of the two, which was recently worsened by the implementation of cybersecurity law. The ruling Communist Party, despite sweeping economic reform and increasing openness to social change, retains tight media censorship, allows minimum freedom of speech, and tolerates little criticism. This predicts greater challenges in future governance, as the Party struggles between pleasing external forces and handling internal issues.

On the other hand, provided the rocky history between Vietnam and China, the lease fuels the protesters’ fear of domination by Chinese investors. Up to 99 years, the lease provides Chinese investors access to the three most strategic zones along the coast, which might pose a threat to Vietnam’s security, given how the South China Sea dispute is still heated. Furthermore, a surge in Chinese nationals coming to Vietnam to buy land (sometimes illegally) and settle down is also worrying the natives, as it predicts greater ambitions in the northern neighbour’s expansion scheme. All of these contribute to the general dissatisfied sentiment, which agrees that the Party is not doing enough to defend and assert the country’s sovereignty.

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