News / Asia

Anti-China Protesters in Hanoi Mark Border War Anniversary

Protesters lay wreaths at a pagoda on Hoan Kiem lake, Vietnam.
Protesters lay wreaths at a pagoda on Hoan Kiem lake, Vietnam.
Marianne Brown
Around 100 people marched through the center of Hanoi Sunday to commemorate the 35th anniversary of a brief but bloody border war with China.

Anti-China protesters marched around a lake in the center of Hanoi Sunday morning to commemorate 35 years since Chinese troops embarked on a near month-long invasion of northern Vietnam. Participants carried flowers and wore headbands that said “the people will never forget.”

Chinese troops moved in on February 17, 1979, shortly after Vietnam invaded Cambodia, which was at the time led by Chinese-ally the Khmer Rouge. Around 21,000 people are believed to have died on both sides, although neither government has released official figures.

The war is still a very sensitive subject in Vietnam because of the delicate diplomatic relationship with China. Student Kim Bich Ngoc, 20 years old, said her teachers warned her she would be kicked out of university if she attended anti-China protests.

" I never learned about it at school...The government don’t want Vietnamese people to know about that because they are afraid it will affect the relationship between Vietnam and China," said Ngoc.

The protesters had originally intended to lay the flowers at the statue of national icon Ly Thai To, but the area around the statue was packed with members of aerobics and ballroom dance clubs.

Many protesters said they believed the government had arranged the activities so they could not gather there.

Among the crowd was Nguyen Tri Dung, the son of political blogger Nguyen Van Hai, who wrote under the pen name Dieu Cay.

Nguyen Van Hai took part in protests as early as 2008 against Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea, which overlap with Vietnam’s own claims. He is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence for conducting propaganda against the state.

Dung says he believes the Vietnamese government does not want people to learn about the border war with China.

"I had to find for myself the real history (about the war) on the Internet," he said. "I came here today to acknowledge the real history. I didn’t learn anything at school about it. I didn’t even know there was a war between the Vietnamese and Chinese at that time."

While the Vietnamese government does at times protest Chinese actions in areas of the South China Sea, which it also claims, coverage of the two countries diplomatic relations is strictly controlled in the Vietnamese media.

China is one of Vietnam’s largest trading partners. Dung says he believes this is why the government does not want young people to know about the war.

"I think it’s because the Vietnamese are afraid to tell the truth, to let the young people know... the government depends a lot on China," he said.

Similar rallies have often been broken up by police with tens of participants detained. Despite being closely followed by uniformed and plain-clothed police, the protesters were eventually allowed to lay flowers at a pagoda and go home.

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Comment Sorting
by: Wangchuk from: NYC
February 21, 2014 11:22 AM
The Sino-Vietnam war of 1979 was a short but bloody coflict. High casualties were on both sides. The PLA outnumbered the Vietnamese Army but the Vietnamese fought well. The PRC claims it never invaded another country but they forget about Vietnam, Tibet, India and its border conflicts w/ the former USSR. Ho Chi Minh never trusted China & said he would rather eat French dung than smell Chinese dung. LOL!

by: Aviv from: Asia
February 17, 2014 4:42 AM
Actually this is a very sensitive diplomatic issue in Vietnam, so that in some way Vietnamese government has to tackle with that carefully. However, they don't find out the rational measures yet which won't upset both its people and the great friend from the North.

by: Garba Alage from: niger
February 17, 2014 1:59 AM
in all cases vietnameses must know what happened durant this war.because a people's history is very important.a people must know its past.and then they will be able to decide what to do about their future relationship with china

by: Taichi Robinhood
February 16, 2014 6:41 PM
But there is one thing that the Vietnamese should remember, without the assistance of China, the Vietnamese could not have defeated the France and the U.S.
In Response

by: Igor from: Russia
February 16, 2014 11:19 PM
Pls keep in mind that China has never given anything for free. Sometimes it helps you in order to take much more from you. China has invaded Vietnam for countless times in history. China never wants Vietnam to defeat France or the US. China only uses Vietnam as a bargain, just as North Korea now. In fact Vietnam won those two wars with the decisive help from the USSR.

by: Henry Phan from: Columbia, SC
February 16, 2014 3:25 PM
When I was in Vietnam, I did not know anything regarding Vietnam/China due to Vietnamese government does not reveal the truth. I strongly believe such a hidden action by Vietnamese gov. is totally wrong. Let history to be history and we all should be respectful history.

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