June 11, 2018 / 7:27 AM / 5 months ago

China warns citizens in Vietnam after protests over economic zones

HANOI (Reuters) - China has warned its citizens in Vietnam after protesters clashed with police over a government plan to create new economic zones for foreign investment that has fueled anti-Chinese sentiment in the country.

Protesters hold a banner which reads "No Leasing Land to China even for Anytime" during a demonstration against a draft law on the Special Economic Zone in Hanoi, Vietnam June 10, 2018. REUTERS/Staff

More than 100 protesters were arrested and dozens of police injured at a protest in central Vietnam on Sunday, one of several demonstrations nationwide against the special economic zones opponents fear will be dominated by Chinese investors.

The Chinese embassy in Hanoi posted a notice on its website referring to the protests as “illegal gatherings” that had included some “anti-China content”.

“The Chinese embassy in Vietnam is paying close attention to the relevant developments and reminds Chinese citizens in Vietnam to pay attention to security when traveling,” the notice said.

Vietnam’s National Assembly agreed on Monday to delay a vote on the draft bill, which would allow foreign investors to lease land for up to 99 years and provide greater incentives and fewer restrictions than at present in the country.

Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, chairwoman of the Assembly, said the protesters might have misunderstood the nature of the bill.

“People should stay calm, believe in the decisions of the party and the state, especially in the fact that the National Assembly is always listening to the people’s opinions when discussing the bills,” Ngan said.

Public protests are not rare in Vietnam and are often quickly quelled by the police.

On Sunday, protesters in the central province of Binh Thuan threw petrol bombs and bricks at police and damaged local government offices and vehicles, state media reported.

Police arrested 102 protesters, the online newspaper VnExpress reported on Monday, citing local police. The report said dozens of policemen were injured in the incident.

In the capital Hanoi, police detained more than a dozen protesters who marched down a busy street, some carrying anti-Chinese banners including one that said “No leasing land to China even for one day”.

Activists said several protesters were also detained in the country’s economic hub, Ho Chi Minh City.

The government has said the bill aims to boost development in three provinces in northern, central and southern Vietnam and provide “room for institutional experiments”.

The initial draft law said land in the zones could be leased for up to 99 years, but Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc told local media last week the term would be reduced, although he did not say by how much.

The protests come at a time of rising tensions over the disputed South China Sea, nearly all of which is claimed by China.

Police stand around a bus after they detained protesters during a demonstration against a draft law on the Special Economic Zone in Hanoi, Vietnam June 10, 2018. REUTERS/Staff

Vietnam is among several countries in the region that have claims in the South China Sea, through which an estimated $5 trillion in trade passes each year.

Some of the protesters at Sunday’s demonstrations were also protesting against another draft bill on cybersecurity amid widespread concern the law would cause economic harm and stifle online dissent in the communist-ruled country.

The United States and Canada urged Vietnam on Friday to delay the vote on the proposed cybersecurity law. The National Assembly is scheduled to vote on it on Tuesday.

Reporting by Khanh Vu and Mai Nguyen; Additional reporting by John Ruwitch in SHANGHAI; Editing by Michael Perry

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