Mass protests against Chinese plans

Fear of China and plans to crackdown on social media brought many citizens of Ho Chi Minh City to the streets.

Protests have erupted in cities across Vietnam over fears that China will exploit new economic zones to increase its influence in the country.

The demonstrations highlight deeply rooted anti-Chinese sentiment in the country and send a clear warning to the Vietnamese Communist party over its ties with Beijing.

Witness saw more than a dozen demonstrators being arrested and bundled into buses in Hanoi as police attempted to break up a demonstration in the capital.

Groups of protesters had gathered at Hoan Kiem Lake in the centre of the city, some with banners opposing any plans to lease land to Chinese companies.

Police blocked the protest in Hanoi.

There were reports of large protests in the southern commercial capital, Ho Chi Minh, and in other cities across the country.

The authorities appeared to have pulled the plug on Facebook accounts in Ho Chi Minh City, in an attempt to stifle the flow of information about the demonstrations.

Some reports spoke of clashes and injuries as police moved in to confront the protesters.

In an attempt to defuse public anger, the government announced late last week that it was postponing plans to introduce new laws on the establishment of three special economic zones.

The prime minister, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, also suggested that a controversial plan to allow foreign companies 99 year leases on land was being reconsidered.

However, many Vietnamese remain unconvinced by the lack of transparency in the decision making process.They say the government has a track record of sacrificing national interests for the sake of economic gain.

The Communist government remains acutely vulnerable to suspicion that it could sell out Vietnamese sovereignty to appease its ideological comrades in Beijing.

The three zones, in the far north, south and centre of Vietnam, are seen by critics as a potential bridgehead for Chinese economic and strategic interests in Vietnam.

The government says that no specific country is mentioned in the draft bill for the new zones.

Many Vietnamese, however, are alarmed at the prospect of any potential increase in Chinese influence.

They have seen how China’s rapid militarisation of the South China Sea has brushed aside Vietnam’s claims to sovereignty in the region.

Some protesters also carried banners denouncing a new cyber security bill, die to be introduced to the national Assembly next week. Critics say that it enables the government to curtail the exchange of free information on social media that has taken hold in recent years.