06/11/2018, 15.26
VIETNAM

Angry protests break out against China over potential land grabs in Vietnam

by J.B. An Dang

Never in the history of Vietnam’s communist regime have there been so many protests. For the first time, government property is attacked in Bình Thuận where the local People's Committee building was stormed by demonstrators, resulting in 102 arrests. Thousands of peasants and workers in the city of Phan Rí Cửa paralysed National Highway No. 1. The bishop emeritus of Vinh and all the priests of the deanery of Minh Cầm took part in a protest at the end of a Mass.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) - The Vietnamese government is cracking down hard on a wave of unprecedented protests against a controversial bill that would set up special administrative and economic units.

Last week, the country’s National Assembly discussed a proposal to establish three special economic zones to benefit Chinese investment in the provinces of Quảng Ninh, Khánh Hòa and Kiên Giang. The law would provide major incentives with few restrictions with land leased for up to 99 years.

As a result, large-scale protests broke out across the country on Saturday, spilling over to Sunday. Never in the history of Vietnam’s communist regime have there been so many protests, especially in the South, where government repression has been greatest. Over the past three days, the security forces have made hundreds of arrests.

Early yesterday, thousands of peasants and workers from the city of Phan Rí Cửa, Bình Thuận province, protested on National Highway no. 1. This follows complaints over the past few months about the high levels of pollution in the area, home to the country’s second most important Marian shrine, Our Lady of Tapao.

A Chinese-owned electric generator factory is at the centre of the protest because it stripped local hills of all vegetation and left scores of children with dangerously high levels of lead in their blood.

Since the Vietnamese government has ignored local concerns, residents have taken to the streets to stop more land from being given away. Quickly, the crowd swelled to tens of thousands of people, forcing the authorities to deploy security forces to disperse them by force.

However, protesters have opposed fierce resistance and blocked the highway until late at night, paralysing traffic between north and south Vietnam.

Whilst the police were barely able to reopen the highway, thousands of protesters gathered in the afternoon in front of the Bình Thuận People's Committee building.

Several passersby joined them. Violence broke out after police started dragging scores of peaceful protesters into the building. The clashes lasted for hours, and protesters eventually took control of the building (picture 2), which was ransacked. The building and cars were set on fire (picture 3).

This is the first time in history that government property is the object of such violence since the Communists took over. This morning, state media announced the arrest of 102 people in connection with the violence in Bình Thuận.

In the diocese of Vinh, Bishop Emeritus Mgr Cao Đình Thuyên and all the priests of the deanery of Minh Cầm took part in a protest yesterday at the end of the Mass. They carried signs saying "Protest against the draft law on special economic zones" and "Protest against leasing land to China" (picture 4).

"By virtue of our social responsibility and with due respect, after carefully listening to heartfelt and science-based feedback from professionals and understanding the majority’s worries, we suggest to the National Assembly to respect the aspiration of the people and cancel the draft on economic zones," said Mgr Cao.

Overall, protests broke out in major cities and various towns. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Hà Nội, Đà Nẵng, Nha Trang, Phan Thiết, Sàigòn, Hố Nai and Mỹ Tho, not only against plans to set up the three economic zones but also against a draft law to restrict Internet use.

Millions of Vietnamese fear the economic zones in Vân Đồn (north), Bắc Vân Phong (centre) and Phú Quốc Island (south) could become military outposts for "Chinese aggression" in Southeast Asia, like those in Cambodia and Sri Lanka.

The country’s parliament was set to vote on the new legislation on special economic zones next Friday (15 June), but the government announced its intention to postpone the vote.

However, despite opposition at home and abroad, a vote will go ahead on a proposed Internet security law. The latter is similar to the one adopted by China. It imposes severe restrictions and forces users to provide personal information.

Access to political blogs, Google and Facebook will be blocked. Furthermore, all servers must be located in Vietnam and any information will be subject to censorship.

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