|Tensions with China regularly trigger demonstrations in Vietnam. Though sometimes tolerated, more often than not they are shut down by police. Despite the risks, a core of regular protesters in Hanoi carries on.|
Unrest Poses a Risky Choice for Vietnam
May 19, 2014and
HA TINH PROVINCE, Vietnam — The hundreds of men on motorbikes who roared into Lee Hsueh Ying’s factory compound north of Ho Chi Minh City were bent on revenge against China. Some clung to red-and-gold Vietnamese flags while they careened around overwhelmed security guards. And in a scene repeated elsewhere in the country’s industrial heartland, they destroyed the building, smashing furniture, snatching computers and shouting “Long Live Vietnam.”
Vietnam has a history of resisting the world’s great powers. It threw out the French after almost a century of colonization and then handed the United States a humiliating defeat. That same spirit has emerged in its latest war of wills, this time over China’s attempts to project its growing power closer to Vietnam’s shores.
Hau Dinh/Associated PressA Vietnamese Coast Guard officer filmed a Chinese vessel in disputed waters. Some saw China’s decision to deploy an oil rig nearby as an “invasion.”
Adam Ferguson for The New York TimesThe Formosa Steel mill was the site of protests against Chinese workers.
Bullit Marquez/Associated PressProtesters in Makati City, the Philippines, in front of the Chinese Consulate there on Friday. China’s assertions of ownership in the South China Sea have also raised fears in the Philippines.
But the target of this week’s violence — foreign businesses that have become a lifeline of Vietnam’s economy — has left Vietnam’s government with a hard choice. Ignoring the popular anger it has helped stoke could leave it open to critics at home. But taking on its longtime rival, China, in a battle it cannot win could jeopardize its standing with investors that have lifted the economy after decades of war and occupation.
“Official Vietnamese history is almost all about standing up to China,” said Robert Templer, author of “Shadows and Wind: A View of Modern Vietnam. “So it is hard for the government to criticize the public when they say they are doing exactly that.”
In one sign of that ambivalence, the prime minister, Nguyen Tan Dung, sent a text to millions of citizens after the violence abated, praising the protesters’ defiance but making clear that his authoritarian government would not tolerate continued unrest.
“The prime minister requests and calls on every Vietnamese to boost their patriotism to defend the fatherland’s sacred sovereignty with actions in line with the law,” the text message said, according to news service reports. “Bad elements should not be allowed to instigate extremist actions that harm the interests and image of the country.”
Here in Ha Tinh, where at least one Chinese laborer was killed, many workers could be seen boarding buses for home, hoping to escape a crackdown. But those who remained behind were adamant that their cause was just, even as some denounced the violence and lamented that protesters had targeted non-Chinese companies in their frenzy.
Some likened China’s decision to deploy an oil rig off Vietnam’s coast to an invasion. And many said strident press coverage of Chinese ships training water cannons on Vietnamese vessels near the rig had fed their anger.
“We’re a strong, patriotic people,” said one middle-aged worker whose factory suspended production.
The latest struggle with China started early this month, when China moved the drilling rig 140 miles off Vietnam, acting on its claim that those waters are Chinese domain, along with about 80 percent of the South China Sea. Such assertions and other claims in the East China Sea have raised fears throughout the region, where many countries contend that portions of the strategic and resource-rich waters are theirs.
In Vietnam, with its history of occupation, the move was seen as nothing short of a challenge to the country’s sovereignty, inflaming its prickly patriotism.
The government, which critics say has a record of using such sentiments when politically convenient, let loose the press to cover the controversy, and television featured tirades against China. Then officials took the unusual step of allowing the press to cover peaceful protests.
The first protests in city centers were peaceful and generated colorful photos of seas of flag-waving Vietnamese. But analysts say the government was unprepared for what followed, as workers near Ho Chi Minh City and then here in Ha Tinh began turning on foreign-owned factories. Scores of buildings were razed or badly damaged, burned by the marauding crowds.
The government arrested more than 400 people and issued anxious statements about the loss of business. But the authoritarian government may have an easier time stopping the protests than quelling the anger that coalesced around the rig. China itself has learned a similar lesson in recent years, when protests against Japan over a maritime dispute and other controversies that were initially tolerated spiraled into attacks on Japanese factories and offices.
Managing nationalist sentiments in this case may be especially difficult because Vietnam’s relationship with China is so complex. The Chinese helped Vietnamese revolutionaries fighting the French, and Beijing has often served as a model for socialist policies. But China has also often been viewed as an aggressor, with its last war with Vietnam starting as recently as 1979.
These days neither the Chinese nor the Vietnamese government likes to discuss that war, which was prompted by Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia and claimed thousands of lives. But for years after the hostilities, the Vietnamese Communist Party carried out a propaganda campaign against China that “featured extremely harsh, racist language and imagery,” according to Peter B. Zinoman, a professor of Vietnamese history at the University of California, Berkeley, who is currently in Hanoi.
Many of today’s adults were raised on that current of invective, even as the Vietnamese and Chinese Communist Parties patched up their differences and the governments sought to expand cross-border trade.
China’s economic and military rise has added to the conflicted feelings among many Vietnamese. Chinese investors and contractors have been part of a welcome flood of foreign investment in recent years. But critics of the Vietnamese government have maintained that some of those investments benefited party cadres in Vietnam while doing little to help the broader population.
Still, China’s decision to move the rig into position trespassed into one area that the government and its critics can agree on, analysts say.
Earlier this year, Vietnamese newspapers broke with longstanding reticence about reporting on a military clash in 1974, when China seized control from South Vietnam of the southern Paracel Islands. The news had been avoided in part because of sensitivities of lionizing the South Vietnamese, but the recent news coverage included heroic portrayals of the struggle.
By the time China moved the rig, anti-Chinese feelings were already at a slow boil.
Vietnamese anger with China has “spread from the elite of intellectuals and cadres to workers,” said Carl A. Thayer, an emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia who studies Vietnamese politics. “This is new. This is populist pressure.”
Analysts say the fact that the explosion of violence targeted businesses was evidence that the motivations went much deeper than nationalism, saying workers tapped into a well of resentment against low wages and against their own government.
“I think the anger that lies underneath this has just as much to do with corruption and incompetence in the government in Hanoi than in any resentment of China,” said Mr. Templer, the expert on Vietnam. “It all adds up to a lot of anger and very few ways to channel that.”
But a number of workers insisted that their reasoning was simpler.
“Our complaint isn’t about wages,” Ho Van Hang said. “It’s about China.”Chris Buckley reported from Ha Tinh Province, and Edward Wong from New York. Chau Doan contributed reporting from Ha Tinh Province, and Keith Bradsher from Hong Kong.
儲百亮, 黃安偉 2014年05月19日
Adam Ferguson for The New York Times
越南河靜省——數百人騎着摩托車，高喊着衝進了李雪穎（音 譯）位於胡志明市北邊的工廠，一心想要報復中國。其中一些人緊握着紅金兩色的越南國旗，將那些不知所措的保安逼到了角落裡。他們破壞建築、打碎傢具、搶走 電腦，高喊着「越南萬歲」。在越南工業中心地帶的其他一些地方，同樣的場景也有上演。
然而，本周暴力事件所針對的目標——業已成為越南經濟生命 線的外國企業——讓越南政府面臨著一個艱難的抉擇。政府助長了民眾的憤怒，忽視這種憤怒會讓它在國內遭受指責。另一方面，如果與宿敵中國進行一場無望取勝 的戰鬥，又可能會危及越南與一些投資者的關係。在越南經歷幾十年的戰爭和腐敗之後，正是這些投資者拉升了越南的經濟。
「越南的官方歷史幾乎都是關於挺身對抗中國的，」《影與 風：現代越南觀覽》(Shadows and Wind: A View of Modern Vietnam)一書的作者羅伯特·坦普勒(Robert Templer)說，「這樣一來，當民眾說自己正是在對抗中國時，政府很難指責他們。」
這種矛盾心理的標誌之一是，暴力緩解後，越南總理阮晉勇(Nguyen Tan Dung)向數百萬民眾發了一條短訊，一方面稱讚抗議者的反抗行為，一方面也明確表示，他領導的威權政府不會容忍持續的動亂。
最近這場與中國的鬥爭始於本月初，當時中國將前述鑽井平台 移到了距越南海岸僅140英里（約合225公里）的地方，理由是相關水域屬中國所有，中國還聲稱擁有南海大約80%水域的主權。中國的此類主張以及對東海 的領土要求在整個地區引發了擔憂，該地區的許多國家都聲稱，自己對這些資源豐富的戰略性水域的部分區域擁有主權。
一開始，各城市中心的抗議活動是和平的，催生了多姿多彩的 照片，照片里的越南人揮舞着國旗，匯成了人海。然而，分析人士表示，接下來，由於胡志明市附近的工人和河靜省的工人相繼開始攻擊外資工廠，使得越南政府措 手不及。數十棟建築被四處劫掠的人群縱火焚燒，或是被夷為平地，或是受損嚴重。
政府逮捕了400多人，並就商業損失發表了焦慮的聲明。不 過，對於越南的威權政府來說，平息鑽井平台引發的怒火可能不像制止抗議活動那麼容易。近年來，中國自身也在因海上爭端和其他爭議而起的反日抗議活動中嘗到 了類似的教訓：起初得到容忍的抗議活動最終惡化成了針對日本工廠和辦公場所的攻擊。
近期以來，中越兩國政府都不願意討論那場戰爭，它因越南入 侵柬埔寨而起，奪走了數以千計的人命。不過，加州大學伯克利分校(University of California, Berkeley)越南史教授、目前身處河內的彼得·B·齊諾曼(Peter B. Zinoman)表示，在兩國結束敵對狀態以後的多年之中，越南共產黨一直在進行一場反華宣傳運動，其中「充斥着極端刺耳的種族主義言論和比喻」。
今年早些時候，越南報紙打破長期的緘默，報道了1974年 的一次軍事衝突，在那次衝突中，中國從南越手裡奪取了對南部帕拉塞爾群島（Paracel Islands，中方稱西沙群島——譯註）的控制權。部分是因為顧及南越人對這一恥辱的敏感，當局一直避免報道此事，然而，近期的新聞報道卻對這場戰役進 行了英雄主義的描述。
越南對中國的怒火已經「從知識分子和幹部精英群體擴散到了 工人群體」，澳大利亞新南威爾士大學(University of New South Wales)研究越南政治的榮休教授卡爾·A·塞耶(Carl A. Thayer)說，「這是一種新現象。這是民粹主義的壓力。」
胡萬恆(Ho Van Hang)說，「我們的怨氣和工資無關，只和中國有關。」