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

Amnesty: EU Failing Migrants, Refugees

Rights group says migrants, refugees subject to detention, extortion, beatings More

From South Africa to Vietnam, Cyclists Deliver Message Against Rhino Horns

Appalled by poaching they saw firsthand, sisters embark on tour to raise awareness in countries where rhino horn products are in demand More

Uber Wants Johannesburg Police Protection

Request follows recent protests outside ride-hailing service's Johannesburg office More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deali
X
July 07, 2015 12:02 PM
If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deal

If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.

VOA Blogs