Cablegate: Olympic Torch in Vietnam

DE RUEHHI #0503/01 1201021
R 291021Z APR 08 ZDK




E.O. 12958: N/A


REF: (A) Hanoi 494 (B) Hanoi 493

HANOI 00000503 001.2 OF 002

1. (SBU) Summary: The Olympic torch arrived in Ho Chi Minh City
(HCMC) on April 28 in advance of the planned torch relay set to
begin at six o'clock p.m. on April 29. Despite anti-China protests
planned by activists in both HCMC and Hanoi (Ref A), a heavy police
presence will almost certainly ensure that the actual torch relay
encounters no serious problems. Fans with Chinese flags were
allowed to march in HCMC on April 29 ahead of the torch's arrival.
Vietnam's official media have given the torch's presence in Vietnam
positive attention, while online fora have carried pieces critical
of the relay and of China. Vietnam's protests are only indirectly
concerned with Tibet; anger against China is focused on Beijing's
actions with regard to the South China Sea. End summary.

Flag-Waving Fans Allowed in HCMC

2. (SBU) The torch arrived in HCMC, its only stop in Vietnam and
19th stop overall, on April 28 with a run through HCMC set late in
the day on April 29. In the run-up to the torch relay event, there
was talk online and rumors of planned protests in front of the
Chinese consulate, Opera House and other key public sites. Calls to
boycott sponsors such as Coca-Cola, Lenovo and Samsung have also
been circulating on the Internet.

3. (SBU) Police presence in HCMC was heavy during the day on April
29, with up to 100 police officers of various units in the central
area near Notre Dame Cathedral, Reunification Palace and the
Chinese Consulate in HCMC. On the sidewalk opposite the Chinese
Consulate, plainclothes and uniformed police were not allowing
anyone to stop in the area.

4. (SBU) Four small groups of approximately 30 people, apparently
Chinese nationals, conducted peaceful marches through central HCMC
waving Chinese flags and wearing white T-shirts with the Beijing
Olympics logo. A group of between 35 and 50 people wearing white
T-shirts and waving Chinese flags gathered in the lawn near the
Reunification Palace. Police watched them closely but left them
alone. The group walked on in the direction of the Opera House,
where a dais for the torch relay ceremony has been in place since
the morning.

Hanoi: Anti-China Protesters Reportedly Arrested
--------------------------------------------- ---

5. (SBU) Anti-Chinese protests in Hanoi were reportedly planned for
both the Chinese Embassy and Hoan Kiem Lake, where families of
Vietnamese fishermen killed by the Chinese in the South China Sea
were allegedly planning to rally. (Note: Hoan Kiem Lake in downtown
Hanoi plays a prominent role in Vietnam's legendary struggles to
gain independence from China. End Note.) On the morning of April
29 the road in front of the Chinese Embassy (site of previous
protests against Chinese actions in the South China Sea) was blocked
off to traffic by a few dozen uniformed police, including helmeted
riot police. There was no indication of people rallying or being
arrested at either site.

6. (SBU) There were press reports that at least six people were
detained in Hanoi and that two men hoisted banners with the words
"Beijing 2008" and a design depicting the Olympic rings as handcuffs
at Hanoi's central market before being hustled away by dozens of
uniformed and plainclothes police officers. Unconfirmed blog
reports put the number of those arrested much higher.

Official Media Positive, Bloggers Less So

7. (SBU) The Ho Chi Minh City portion of the Olympic torch relay has
drawn a great deal of attention from the Vietnamese media. The
official state-run outlets have highlighted Vietnam's inclusion in
this global event and have reported officials vowing to ensure its
success. These outlets, unsurprisingly, did not cover any protests
or challenges encountered during relay stops in other countries.
And according to media contacts, editors of state-run media
organizations have been instructed to cover the subject sparingly,
focusing on the major kickoff event.

8. (SBU) In contrast, online fora and popular blog sites have
carried numerous pieces critical of the relay and of China. Just
days ago, a popular HCMC blogger Dieu Cay posted a protest of
China's plan to put disputed South China Sea islands under Chinese
administration. Cay was subsequently arrested for tax evasion, and
more than 20 "illegal" websites have been pulled from the by
Vietnamese authorities. While bloggers and members of online forums
have exercised more restraint since those events, they continue to
discuss the torch relay, often in negative tones.

HANOI 00000503 002.2 OF 002

Anti-China Protests in Vietnam Not About Tibet
--------------------------------------------- -

9. (SBU) In contrast to anti-Chinese protests the torch has
encountered elsewhere, those in Vietnam are not directly focused on
Tibet but rather on perceived Chinese "bullying" of Vietnam in the
South China Sea. Indeed, there was a rumor in the Vietnamese
blogosphere that China had intended to include in the torch run the
disputed Spratly and Paracel Islands.

10. (SBU) The situation in Tibet does, however, have relevance in
Vietnam as another case of Chinese "bullying" and an indication of
how the Chinese could (or would like to) treat Vietnam. Vietnamese
blogs have made the case that China's claims to Tibet are not
dissimilar to claims that China is making on the Spratlys and
Paracels. More importantly, China could make the same "Tibet style"
claims to most of Vietnam since there were times -- most of
Vietnam's history -- when Vietnamese rulers and governments were
either directly subservient to China or deferred to China on major

11. Comment: Anti-Chinese sentiment constitutes a challenge for
Vietnam's leaders. While many of them share in the anger generated
by Beijing's actions to limit foreign companies' collaborations with
Vietnam in exploiting offshore oil resources and Beijing's move late
last year to create a civil jurisdiction covering the islands, Hanoi
also knows that Beijing will react swiftly and sharply to any
"provocation," which would definitely include allowing protesters to
besmirch the relay. In addition, given these limitations, Hanoi
also fears seeming impotent in the face of challenges by Vietnamese
(including critics of the regime) that it cannot or will not stand
up to China. Its response, unsurprisingly, is to stifle protesters
and officially pretend that all is well.

12. (U) This cable was coordinated with ConGen HCMC.


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