This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
A group of well-known Vietnamese scholars gathered this weekend outside China’s consulate in Ho Chi Minh City to protest Chinese ship movements in waters claimed by Vietnam in the South China Sea, dispersing only after an angry exchange with police, sources told RFA.
Participants included retired professors and academics Hoang Dung, Tuong Lai, Vo Van Thon, Le Cong Giau, Ha Thuc Huy, Nguyen Thanh Van, and Huynh Tan Mam, retired professor Hoang Dung told RFA’s Vietnamese Service in an interview.
Though previously watched closely by police, the seven academics had managed to contact each other and meet at the protest site, where they shouted slogans and carried a large banner reading “Down with China’s Invasion,” Hoang Dung said.
When a policeman approached and advised them to go home, adding that they should leave the issue for the government to address, one participant angrily shouted his objections, Hoang Dung said.
Writing on his Facebook page following the protest, Hoang Dung said the protest had gone smoothly at first.
“But suddenly a very young police officer arrived and told us gently and politely to disperse, saying we should leave concerns about China for the state to deal with.”
“Tuong Lai became furious at this and shouted ‘Liar! Tell me who in our government is dealing with this aggression!’” Hoang Dung wrote.
“Maybe the Ministry of Public Security should issue a directive prohibiting its officers from saying things like this,” Hoang Dung added. “They contradict the traditions of the Vietnamese people, who say ‘Even helpless women can fight the enemy when they’re at the front door.”
After the exchange, the protesters left without incident, Hoang Dung said.
Saturday’s demonstration followed an earlier protest on Aug. 6 in Hanoi in which authorities forced 10 activists to disperse after they displayed signs and shouted slogans opposing China’s survey of an offshore oil block located within Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Tensions recently rose when the Haiyang Dizhi 8, a ship operated by the China Geological Survey, conducted a 12-day survey of waters near the disputed Spratley Islands, with Chinese Coast Guard ships following in support.
At one point, China’s survey intruded into an offshore oil block in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) off of the Spratlys’ westernmost reef, known as Vanguard Bank, and vessels from the two countries were later involved in a weeks-long standoff near the area.
Beijing has been fortifying the islands it claims in the South China Sea with weaponry, runways and deep water berths, and has also created artificial islands by dredging massive amounts of sand.
China has aggressively asserted claims to the South China Sea, which Vietnam refers to as the East Sea, based on its so-called “nine-dash” demarcation line that encompasses some 90 percent of its waters, including territory claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Singapore.