Vietnam marks 70 years since declaring independence from France

Vietnamese women, wearing traditional ao dai, carry portraits of late Vietnamese revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh during a parade marking the country's 70th National Day at Ba Dinh square in Hanoi on Sept 2, 2015.
Vietnamese women, wearing traditional ao dai, carry portraits of late Vietnamese revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh during a parade marking the country's 70th National Day at Ba Dinh square in Hanoi on Sept 2, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

HANOI (AFP) - Vietnam's President on Wednesday (Sept 2) urged further modernisation of the armed forces in the face of growing maritime territorial disputes as the nation celebrated 70 years since it declared independence from France.

More than 30,000 people, from soldiers to schoolgirls, marched in a lavish parade in the capital Hanoi to mark the anniversary of founding president Ho Chi Minh's proclamation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

His famous Sept 2, 1945 speech - part of which was taken from the US Declaration of Independence - launched a new era of struggle to end nearly a century of French colonial rule and later fight off American intervention and reunify Vietnam.

Speaking in the same Ba Dinh square as Ho Chi Minh 70 years ago, Vietnam's President Truong Tan Sang took aim at new global power struggles in the region.

"Disputes over sea and islands are on the rise, especially in the East Sea," he said, referring to the South China Sea by its Vietnamese name.

Such maritime territorial disputes are a direct threat to Vietnam's "peace, stability, territorial sovereignty and integrity", he added, calling for further modernisation of the armed forces so that the country would be better prepared.

After Ho Chi Minh's 1945 declaration, it took another nine years for Vietnam to score a decisive victory over the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.

The US then entered the conflict, hoping to forestall the emergence of a communist Vietnam.

Earlier this year, Hanoi also celebrated the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon on April 30, marking the communist victory over US forces.

The communist party has ruled unified Vietnam since 1975 and while the country has enjoyed rapid economic growth in recent years, it remains locked in a longstanding territorial dispute with Beijing over island chains and waters in the South China Sea.

Vietnam's authoritarian regime has struggled to balance vocal domestic criticism of its handling of the dispute with its traditionally friendly ties with fellow communists in Beijing.

The parade on Wednesday, one of the country's largest in years, did not involve any heavy military equipment but was part of a drive to inspire "patriotism, self-reliance and aspirations for peace", organisers said ahead of the event.

According to Vietnam's Foreign Ministry, Mr Sang will be in China on Thursday to attend a controversial military parade marking the anniversary of the end of World War II in Asia.

Western leaders are shunning the event, which analysts say is a bid by Beijing to hammer home its growing global importance.