Anti-China protests in Vietnam cities fizzle out as government deploys huge security

Policemen try to disperse people protesting near the Embassy of China, in Hanoi, Vietnam, on May 18, 2014. -- PHOTO: EPA
Policemen try to disperse people protesting near the Embassy of China, in Hanoi, Vietnam, on May 18, 2014. -- PHOTO: EPA

Ho Chi Minh City - Anti-China protests in major Vietnamese cities fizzled out on Sunday under a massive security blanket which saw Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City saturated with police and security personnel from early morning.

In Ho Chi Minh City, only a few dozen protesters appeared near the Opera House a few blocks from the Chinese consulate, and some were immediately taken away by police. The rest dispersed.

The area, and the proposed route for the march to proceed to the Chinese consulate, was saturated by police both in uniform and plain clothes, with many seeming nervous and chivying passersby to keep moving.

Vietnam technically does not allow any public demonstrations, so all protests are illegal. But in recent weeks it has allowed anti-China protests in the wake of a standoff with China in disputed waters in the South China Sea, which Vietnam calls the East Sea.

But in trying to manage public opinion which is strongly anti-Chinese following Beijing's placement of an oil rig near the Vietnamese coast, and deployment of warships to protect it, it has also sent mixed signals.

In the wake of protests turning violent in central Vietnam and near Ho Chi Minh City last Tuesday, with ethnic Chinese investments being attacked and two Chinese workers killed, prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung sent a series of text messages to state-owned mobile phone service subscribers saying they were free to express their "patriotism" - but should not be involved in illegal activities.

Similarly in Hanoi, the protests on Sunday morning failed to get under way. Police established barriers in front of the Chinese embassy and did not allow anyone near it. Security personnel outnumbered passers by.

This did not please the protesters who did show up. "I am very disappointed with the government," said protestor Nguyen Minh Ha, 30, an office clerk. "PM Nguyen Tan Dung had told voters people have rights to show their patriotism on Thursday, but in reality, the government has banned us."

A foreign diplomat at the scene said it was clear the government had dealt efficiently with the protests. But while it was important to ensure security, it was also important to allow people to vent their feelings on the current row with China, he said.

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