HANOI (Reuters) - Vietnamese authorities tolerated a second day of anti-China protests in the capital on Sunday as more than 100 people demonstrated against what they see as bullying behavior by Beijing in an escalating dispute over maritime territory.
In a park in front of the Chinese Embassy the demonstrators waved flags, sang patriotic songs and chanted “Down with China!” and “The Spratlys and Paracels belong to Vietnam,” referring to archipelagos in the South China Sea.
Police told them to leave after about 20 minutes but let them march around Hoan Kiem Lake in the heart of town, where some onlookers voiced support and a handful joined the protest.
China and Vietnam have tussled in recent weeks over long-standing maritime disputes in the South China Sea and, though a military clash seems unlikely, the tensions could trouble regional diplomacy and possibly draw in the United States, which took up the South China Sea dispute last year.
Last Sunday rare street demonstrations took place in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City after the government lodged a protest with China when it said Chinese vessels damaged equipment in use by a Vietnamese survey ship within Vietnam’s 200 nautical mile exclusive maritime economic zone.
The Vietnamese government said a similar incident at sea took place on Thursday, blaming China for violating its sovereignty. China has lobbed similar propaganda salvos at Vietnam since the end of May, accusing Hanoi for raising tensions in the region.
The South China Sea is crossed by key shipping lanes and believed to hold potentially large oil and gas reserves. The Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims to parts of the sea’s 648,000 square miles (1.7 million sq km).
“We Vietnamese are willing to sacrifice everything and do anything within our power to protect our sacred territorial water and land. We urge China to stop slandering us,” said Hanoian Pham Viet Cuong.
Public protests are rare in Vietnam but the authorities have clearly tolerated the two Sunday demonstrations. Police stopped traffic several times to let the protesters cross streets.
A bride and groom taking wedding photos by the lake joined in the protest.
“We were here last week, we’re here this week and we’ll be here for many weeks to come if they continue violating our country,” said Nguyen Quang Thach, who was wearing a red shirt with the yellow star of a Vietnamese flag.
Whether or not the authorities will allow the demonstrations to continue has yet to be seen, but the government is unlikely to allow them to snowball, barring perhaps a particularly egregious act by China.
Some universities have warned students not to take part. A notice circulating online from the Industrial University in Ho Chi Minh City threatened to expel students who joined the anti-China demonstrations.
The Vietnamese Foreign Ministry on Saturday confirmed that the navy would hold live-fire exercises on Monday off the central coast.
Additional reporting by Reuters TV; Editing by Alex Richardson