Tens of thousands of people in major Vietnamese cities have taken to streets Sunday to protest China’s deployment of a giant drilling rig and a fleet of ships, including military ones, into Vietnamese waters.
Starting at around 7 a.m., the crowds of all ages gathered in major streets in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and the central cities of Da Nang and Hue with banners written in Vietnamese, English and Chinese, demanding China withdraw its rig from the waters in the Hoang Sa (Paracel) Islands over which Vietnam claims sovereignty .
Some of the banners included: “China violated international laws!” and “Hoang Sa-Truong Sa belong to Vietnam,” "Vietnam asks for peace, China answers with war," "Haiyang 981, get out of Vietnam now."
The people marched along the streets, waved the Vietnamese flag, sang Vietnam’s national anthem and songs about Hoang Sa and Truong Sa islands, and shouted in protest of China’s violations.
The demonstrations ended at 11:10 a.m. Sunday.
In 1974, taking advantage of the withdrawal of the American troops from the Vietnam War, China invaded the Paracel. A brief but bloody naval battle with the forces of the then US-backed Republic of Vietnam ensued.
Vietnam's behemoth northern neighbor has illegally occupied the islands ever since. But a post-1975 united Vietnam has never relinquished its ownership of the Paracel Islands and continues to keep military bases and other facilities on the Spratly Islands.
China and four members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) including Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei all claim territory in the resource- and oil-rich East Sea, internationally known as the South China Sea.
Over the past years, Vietnam and the Philippines have accused China of harassing their fishermen and damaging their vessels in the disputed waters.
The tensions between Hanoi and Beijing resurfaced last week when the state-run China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) moved a giant US$-1billion oil rig into position in Vietnam's exclusive economic zone in the Hoang Sa Islands.
On May 7, Vietnam released images and information about Chinese vessels intentionally ramming Vietnamese patrol boats protecting their waters.
The various incidents unfolded between May 3 and May 7 after China deployed roughly 80 ships to guard the giant mobile rig as it was looking to drill for oil and gas just 120 nautical miles off Vietnam’s central coast.
Images and videos released at a press conference in Hanoi on May 7 showed Chinese boats ramming and firing water cannons at Vietnamese vessels, damaging the ships and injuring six Vietnamese fisheries surveillance officers.
On May 8, China acknowledged for the first time that its vessels had fired water cannons at the Vietnamese flotilla. But Beijing defended its actions by saying that it had no choice but to increase its security measures in response to what it claimed were Vietnamese provocations, Reuters reported.
One day ahead of a regional summit that begins Saturday in Myanmar, Vietnam called on other ASEAN member countries to speak with a common voice against China's latest move.
Vietnam's recent flare-up with China in the contested waters is likely to top the agenda at the summit, but analysts doubt any breakthrough will be achieved in a diverse bloc that remains divided over the issue.
But on the bright side, Southeast Asian foreign ministers agreed Saturday to jointly express concern over the latest sea collision between Vietnam and China.
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