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Cablegate: Patriotic Hcmc and Hanoi Rallies Nevertheless Challenge Gvn

VZCZCXRO7785
OO RUEHDT RUEHPB
DE RUEHHM #1266/01 3551259
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O P 211259Z DEC 07
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3482
INFO RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI PRIORITY 2381
RUCNARF/ASEAN REGIONAL FORUM COLLECTIVE
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 0035
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 3701

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HO CHI MINH CITY 001266

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, EAP/CM, DRL/IRF, DRL/AWH

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM VM
SUBJECT: PATRIOTIC HCMC AND HANOI RALLIES NEVERTHELESS CHALLENGE GVN
SENSE OF ORDER

REF: (A) HANOI 2060, (B) HO CHI MIN 766, (C) HO CHI MIN 706

HO CHI MIN 00001266 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Organizing themselves through blogs and instant
messaging networks, students in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi
gathered on December 9, and again on December 16 in Ho Chi Minh
City, to protest China's decision to set up a government unit in
Hainan to administer the Paracel and Spratly islands. GVN
authorities worked to isolate the protesters in HCMC and
persuade them to disband, giving some credibility to Ministry of
Foreign Affairs statements that these protests were
"spontaneous" and "unauthorized." HCMC authorities also
temporarily detained several political dissidents to prevent
them from joining the December 16 protests. The protests have
generated lively internet commentary. End summary.

Students Express Their Patriotism
---------------------------------
2. (SBU) On December 9 and 16 hundreds of young Vietnamese
expressed anti-China sentiments in front of China's Consulate in
HCMC over Vietnam's perceived weak response to China's decision
to set up administrative control over the Paracel and Spratly
islands -- groups of coral islands in the South China Sea that
have been the subject of territory dispute between China and
Vietnam. Consulate contacts predict that protests will continue
this coming Sunday, December 23. Student protests also took
place in Hanoi on December 9 in front of the Chinese Embassy
(reftel).

3. (SBU) ConGen HCMC contacts and media reports described the
first demonstration on December 9 as peaceful amid a heavy
police presence. According to many of the demonstrators, calls
for demonstration circulated through Yahoo Messenger and by
Internet for several days before the December 9 rally. Although
the Vietnamese MFA spokesman said the protest was "spontaneous"
and "unauthorized", many demonstrators believed that it was
tacitly encouraged by GVN. HCMC government leaders came to
defuse the protest, promising that the HCMC Communist Youth
Union (the Communist Party's youth organization) would lead
another demonstration the next Sunday (Dec 16). Although the
second demonstration did take place, it did not appear to be
organized by the Youth Union.

4. (SBU) On December 16 about 100 university students approached
the Chinese Consulate only to find that the area had been
cordoned off by police. Observers told us demonstrators moved
to a lawn in the city center, and having swelled to 700 were
surrounded by uniformed and plainclothes security forces.
According to witnesses, some university professors came to
"explain" to the students that their patriotism was appreciated
but they should not create an opportunity for "bad elements" to
take advantage of their patriotism. In Hanoi on the morning of
December 16, a heavy police presence around the Chinese Embassy
precluded any repetition of the previous week's protest.

Rounding up the Usual Suspects
------------------------------
5. (SBU) On December 15, the day before the second
demonstration, the Cong An Thanh Pho Ho Chi Minh (HCMC Police
newspaper) published a announcement, warning that the police had
detected "conspiracies by hostile reactionary forces to ignite
anti-China protest and create public disorder." The
announcement listed "terrorist group Viet Tan" and the
"reactionary Youth Assembly for Democracy" as leading
conspirators. In fact, several democracy activists, including
Democratic Party of Vietnam Deputy Secretary General Tran Khue
and Bloc 8406 leader Do Nam Hai, were prevented by police from
reaching the demonstration site. Tran Khue and Do Nam Hai told
us they were detained for several hours and only released when
the demonstration came to and end at around three that afternoon.

HCMC Media and the IT Play a New Role
-------------------------------------
6. (SBU) Frustration among Vietnamese towards China's action
appears high, and the surge of nationalism appears to have
crossed political barriers. On Dec 6, the HCMC-based popular
daily Tuoi Tre ran an editorial, calling China's decision to set
up administrative control over the islands "unacceptable," and
for the first time since 1975 recalled the losing battle between
ARVN navy and Chinese navy in 1974 when China invaded the
Paracels. The article wrote that the ARVN lost 58 men in that
battle to "defend the motherland." The article resulted in
increased attention to the author's public blog in which he
routinely discusses the ARVN navy. [Comment: The protestors'
use of instant messaging and blogs to organize their activities
and spread their novel ideas of patriotism on the internet
demonstrate that technology is slowly eroding the government's
ability to control communication. End Comment.]


HO CHI MIN 00001266 002.2 OF 002


7. (SBU) The internet also serves a forum for open debate on the
topic. Following the December 9 demonstration in Hanoi, Ha
Quang Thuy a vice rector of the Hanoi National University's
Technological College, reportedly wrote a letter asking students
not to participate in future anti-China demonstrations that was
posted on "hoangsa.org" (Paracels.org). The letter prompted a
flurry of comments from both domestic and overseas Vietnamese
criticizing the vice rector. Some overseas Vietnamese suggested
that the [communist] regime should also be blamed for the soft
approach. Another hoangsa.org article called for students to
refrain from conducting future anti-China demonstrations,
"detrimental" to Sino-Vietnamese relations and asserted that the
Communist Party of Vietnam was correct in taking a "flexible,
mild approach" to resolving the South China Sea dispute. "As a
new non-permanent UNSC member, Vietnam is actually benefiting
from current close ties with China" and China has proven to be
one of Vietnam's most important economic and trading partners,
the anonymous author asserted. Many follow-on posts suggested
that the author must be ethnic Chinese Vietnamese, contending
that the demonstrations are patriotic and now is a good chance
to see the nation rally for a good cause.

Comment:
--------
8. (SBU) Dissidents' attempts to join the anti-China protests
put the GVN in a dilemma: the GVN needs to strike balance
between its attempts to use nationalism as a tool for
strengthening public loyalty and its need to manage historically
complex relations with a powerful neighbor that is sensitive to
perceived slights. With widespread criticism among overseas and
domestic Vietnamese that GVN has been too submissive and done
too little to protect the motherland, demonstrations in Vietnam,
even for nationalist reasons, continue to be a gravely sensitive
issue.

9. (SBU) It is always tempting to assume that such protests in
Vietnam are organized by the GVN. In this case, that was not at
all clear. While police did not break up the protest, they
cordoned off the protestors to prevent others from joining and
prevented anyone from taking pictures -- even going so far as to
send police out to admonish a group of cruise boat tourists who
had been at the nearby Notre Dame Cathedral in Ho Chi Minh City.
Police also strongly encouraged passersby who lingered to move
along. In short, the police treated the protestors exactly the
same way they treated the last rights protestors earlier this
year. End comment.

10. (U) This cable was coordinated with Embassy Hanoi.
FAIRFAX

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