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February 12, 2014

Vietnam Muted Ahead of Border War Anniversary

by Trung Nguyen

Vietnamese media have gone silent prior to the 35th anniversary of the Sino-Vietnamese border war that once strained relations between the two neighboring countries.
 
A senior editor in Vietnam, who wishes to remain anonymous, told VOA’s Vietnamese service that his newspaper received ‘confidential’ instructions from a propaganda watchdog, tightly restricting coverage of the anniversary of the bloody conflict. 
 
“Many dailies have prepared materials for the commemoration of the event, which happened over three decades ago, but they are now in a dilemma,” the unnamed source said.
 
China’s invasion of Vietnam’s northernmost provinces on February 17, 1979 claimed tens of thousands of lives on both sides. 
 
Then-Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping ordered the invasion on China's smaller neighbor after Hanoi brought troops into Cambodia to topple the reign of the China-backed Khmer Rouge.
 
In a recent speech in Washington, Vietnam's ambassador to the United States, Nguyen Quoc Cuong, said Hanoi wants to maintain a good relationship with Beijing, like all of the other countries in the region.
 
“We have a comprehensive strategic partnership with China," he said. "China is [the] No. 1 trading partner with Vietnam, but having said that, I must say that we still have very different views on the claims [over the] South China Sea, [which] we call the East Sea issue.”
 
Emeritus Professor Carlyle Thayer of Australia's University of New South Wales told VOA's Vietnamese service that Hanoi does not want "to draw attention to the fact of China as an aggressor."
 
“Nationalism is a double-edged sword," he said. "It can promote national unity, but on other hand, it can be directed against China as an enemy from 1979 that invaded and attacked Vietnam, and it suits both countries to keep a big gaping hole in their history by skipping over this period, and not trying to explain what occurred.”
 
Nationalist sentiment fueled by simmering tensions over territorial claims in the South China Sea is running high in Vietnam.
 
Dozens of anti-China activists were quickly dispersed last month when they gathered in Hanoi to mark the 40th anniversary of a bloody naval battle between then-South Vietnam and China over the Paracel Islands in the disputed sea.
 
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.