News / Asia

In Vietnam, Anti-China Protests Get Creative

At the Hanoi market, many consumers are more interested in quality than politics, Vietnam. (M. Brown/VOA)
At the Hanoi market, many consumers are more interested in quality than politics, Vietnam. (M. Brown/VOA)
Marianne Brown
In the face of growing constraints on freedom of speech by Vietnamese authorities, protesters who oppose Chinese policies and trade practices are finding inventive ways to express themselves.

With stories of carcinogenic bras and toxic apples from China prevalent in the Vietnamese media, many people try to avoid buying Chinese goods. However, a few have taken it one step further and are using consumer choice as a way to express their political views.

Paulo Nguyen Thanh manages the website No China Shop, which allows reputable local producers to sell strictly made-in-Vietnam products ranging from handbags to organic vegetables. He says he has two kinds of customers, those who are concerned about the ill effects of substandard goods and those who want to express their patriotism.

The site is one-of-a-kind in Vietnam, Thanh says, but is already proving popular. In two days he says the website sells around 4,000 items.

Thanh says Chinese products account for 95 percent of goods on the Vietnamese market. He says many people would rather buy products that are not made in China but they cannot find an alternative.

One of his latest offerings is a special kind of envelope, known as "bao li xi", which is filled with money and given as a gift during the Lunar New Year festival.
Along with the traditional new year message, the design includes a map of Vietnam and the words: “Hoang Sa, Truong Sa, Vietnam,” - the Paracel and Spratly islands belong to Vietnam. China claims the islands and much of the surrounding sea.
Thanh was among a group of people who took part in anti-China protests in June.

He says while shopping in supermarkets he noticed that nearly all of Tet envelopes were imported from China with Chinese lettering. He says Tet is a Vietnamese holiday so the design should be in Vietnamese.

Jonathan London, Vietnam expert and assistant professor at City University Hong Kong, says complaints about Chinese sabotage of Vietnam’s economy are literally thousands of years old. However, part of the recent boycott movement has been inspired by aggressive Chinese foreign policy.

In recent months authorities detained protesters at an anti-China rally, jailed 13 Catholic activists and arrested high profile activist lawyer Le Quoc Quan, moves interpreted by some as part of an increasing crackdown on freedom of speech.

London says in this restrictive atmosphere, consumption is one way for Vietnamese people to express their views.

"Essentially the state cannot manage people’s consumption as tightly as they can manage people’s open expression of ideas...the Vietnamese populace has been pushed to a point where the consumer-based movement is one of the only options that’s available to them," London said.

Most consumers are more concerned about quality than foreign policy.
At a busy open market in Hanoi, 32-year-old stallholder Ngoc says many Vietnamese people do not like buying Chinese goods, particularly poultry, fruit and vegetables, but she adds she and her friends do not have an opinion on political issues.

She says in the past Vietnamese people would buy Chinese goods but they know better now. Many are concerned about dangerous chemicals used to preserve fresh goods.

China is Vietnam’s biggest trading partner, with bilateral trade reaching $41 billion in 2012, up from nearly $36 billion a year earlier. The country’s reliance on China economically puts it in a difficult position politically. A consumer backlash in China over Japanese products following another territorial dispute cost Japanese firms substantial profits. However, London says it is not likely a boycott of Chinese products in Vietnam would have a big impact.

"If this boycott were to gain momentum and gain wide notice in China then I think it could be significant but my sense is that at present it is mainly an expression of dissent," London noted. "And outrage at China’s foreign policy within Vietnam."

London says the existential conditions of Vietnam that have always existed and will always exist is the need to cope with China. Despite pressure from authorities, many people are likely to continue to find inventive ways of expressing their views.

You May Like

Map Shows Every US School Shooting Since 2013

There have been at least 150 school shootings in the United States since 2013, an average of nearly one per week More

Video In US, Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy

Holiday marks date Columbus discovered Americas, but some are offended by legacy because he enslaved many natives he encountered More

Video Kickboxing Champion Shares Sport With Young Migrants

Pouring into Europe by hundreds of thousands, some migrants, especially youngsters, are finding sports a way to integrate into new host countries More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs