HANOI — South China Sea tensions have spilled over again in Vietnam as police detained 22 people Sunday at a protest in the capital.
Waving banners with slogans like "the Paracel and Spratly islands belong to Vietnam," and "China, stop massacring innocent Vietnamese fishermen," a group of up to 200 people met outside Hanoi’s Opera House and marched through the city center on the way to the Chinese Embassy, flanked by police.
After about 30 minutes police bundled 22 of the protesters into a bus. One of the detainees in the vehicle said they had been taken to detention center Loc Ha. Images from the protests were quickly uploaded onto blogs and social media.
A similar protest was broken up in Ho Chi Minh City but there have been no reports of arrests there. One woman on the march in Hanoi, Bui Thi Minh Hang, 47, said the police had no right to detain the protesters.
She said people came to the march because they wanted to show their patriotism.
Last week the country’s state-run oil and gas giant PetroVietnam accused Chinese fishing boats of cutting the cables of a seismic survey vessel operating in Vietnamese waters. The company had accused China of cutting survey cables at least twice last year, triggering weeks of anti-China protests in Vietnam’s major cities.
Tensions have been rising recently as China released a new passport design showing the disputed area as part of China, provoking protests from other countries in the region. China’s Hainan province also caused a stir after releasing new regulations that will affect the country’s coastal regions, including the contested archipelagos.
Analysts say Vietnam and China use confrontations over the South China Sea to influence domestic public opinion and crack down on the demonstrators only when public opinion gets out of hand. Some believe authorities fear the protests will become anti-government.
Several high-profile rights activists were notably absent from Sunday's march. Anti-corruption activist Le Hien Duc was one of them.
Speaking on her way to visit those detained at the detention centre, Duc said police prevented her from leaving her home on Sunday morning so she could not attend the protest.
The land at the center of the dispute is the uninhabited Paracel and Spratly islands, which are believed to be rich in oil and gas reserves. China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all claim South China Sea territories.