HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Hundreds of Vietnamese on Sunday protested outside the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi China’s deployment of an oil rig that has triggered a tense naval standoff and raised fears of confrontation in contested South China Sea waters.
Scores of security officers kept a close watch on about 500 demonstrators as they shouted anti-Chinese slogans and held up banners in a park across from the embassy. The protest was state-sanctioned as it also included signs “Long Live the Communist Party.”
“We are infuriated by the Chinese actions,” said Nguyen Xuan Hien, a lawyer. “We want the Chinese people to understand.”
Vietnam’s authoritarian leaders are highly nervous about public protest even as they have condemned China’s decision to send the rig. Dissident movements opposed to their rule have also taken part in previous anti-China protests, which had been broken up by authorities.
Vietnam dispatched a flotilla of ships to the oil rig soon after it was deployed on May 1, but they were unable to break through a circle of more than 50 Chinese vessels protecting the facility. The Vietnamese coast guard released video of Chinese vessels ramming and firing water cannons at Vietnamese ships.
The latest confrontation in the disputed Paracel Islands, which China occupied from U.S.-backed South Vietnam in 1974, has raised fears that tensions could escalate. Vietnam says the islands fall within its continental shelf and a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone. China claims sovereignty over the area and most of the South China Sea – a position that has brought Beijing in confrontation with other claimants, including the Philippines and Malaysia.
The United States has criticized China’s oil rig deployment as provocative and unhelpful. Foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations who gathered Saturday in Myanmar ahead of Sunday’s summit issued a statement expressing concern and urging restraint by all parties.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying responded by saying that the issue should not concern ASEAN and that Beijing was opposed to “one or two countries’ attempts to use the South Sea issue to harm the overall friendship and cooperation between China and ASEAN,” according to state-run Xinhua News Agency.