Man challenges Chinese occupation of Vietnamese islands with patriotic local goods

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T-shirts made locally for sale at Nguyen Ho Nhat Thanh's No China Shop in Ho Chi Minh City. The shirts feature characters from the popular comic series "Than Dong Viet",  which promotes Vietnamese intelligence, showing them wearing shirts that say "I Love Hoang Sa" and "I Love Truong Sa," in reference to Vietnamese Islands that China is taking over. Photo courtesy of Lao Dong

While fake and often dangerous Chinese products dominate the Vietnamese marketplace, a 27-year-old Saigon shopowner is tapping into anti-China sentiment with a store that sells only locally made patriotic T-shirts.

Angry with the northern neighbor's invasion of several Vietnamese islands, as well as with the flood of unsafe and low-quality Chinese goods that local consumers are stuck with, Vietnamese shoppers have been more than happy to support the business.

Nguyen Ho Nhat Thanh earned more than VND50 million (US$2,400) in one month selling T-shirts made by local producers at his shop literally called "No China Shop."

Thanh's shop is open at night in a space that doubles as his interior furniture store during the day. Thanh first created awareness of his venture on To Hien Thanh Street with a Facebook page of the same name that he set up last December.

"I just planned to have some fun, but the shop has been quite welcomed," he said, according to a Lao Dong report.

His first products were red envelops to carry "lucky money" during the Tet Lunar New Year Festival in February. The envelopes had the words "Hoang Sa Truong Sa Vietnam" printed on them, indicating that the two archipelagos located off the central coast currently occupied by the Chinese military actually belong to Vietnam.

Thanh said he made around 10,000 envelops and they sold faster than he thought, so he had a further 3,000 made.

The young entrepreneur from Ho Chi Minh City is now setting off by road to sell shirts from his car all the way to Hanoi.

He said he wants to steer consumer trends away from Chinese goods, and back to locally made Vietnamese products.

"I am looking for local supplies of foods, garment products and home appliances or those from countries other than China to provide for Vietnamese consumers," Thanh said.

"The market segment of people defying Chinese products is expanding but local businesses have not paid attention to that."

He said his main focus will be clean fruits and food products whose supplies are easy to find in Vietnam and are needed by a large number of consumers.

"But me alone will not be able to satisfy all demands (for Vietnamese goods), so I really want to use the name No China Shop as a campaign to connect local businesses to fight against the domination of Chinese goods and to provide Vietnamese consumers more safe options," Thanh said.

He said he is willing to work free of charge as a middleman to introduce Vietnamese goods. "Or producers can pay me by offering the consumers a discount, as a reward for using local products."

Such a network will benefit all participants, he said, adding that he expects the idea will help local producers and retailers end their habit of relying on Chinese supplies.

Imports from China accounted for 25.3 percent of Vietnam's import revenues last year, with a trade deficit of $16.7 billion, according to the General Statistics Office, which might not count goods brought in through smuggling.

Reports said Vietnam has suffered a trade deficit with the giant neighbor for more than ten years at least, and many items that used to be locally made, including foods, brooms and knives, are now imported or smuggled from China.

Thanh said he feels "extremely angry" every time he thinks about the numbers, of how China is taking over the local market with poor quality products, while threatening Vietnam by violating it's national sovereignty.

"It's time patriotism takes action," he said.

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