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

Myanmar Fighting Poses Dilemma for China

To gain some insight into conflict, VOA’s Steve Herman spoke with Min Zaw Oo, director of ceasefire negotiation and implementation at Myanmar Peace Center More

Australia Concerned Over Islamic State 'Brides'

Canberra believes there are between 30 and 40 Australian women who have taken part in terror attacks or are supporting the Islamic State terror network More

Recreational Marijuana Use Now Legal in Washington, DC

Law allows adults 21 and over to privately possess and smoke 0.05 kilogram of pot, and to grow small amounts of the plant More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More