Anti-China protesters have taken to the streets in Vietnam to oppose an upcoming visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The protesters were seen carrying banners that read, “Xi Jinping, give back the Spratlys and Paracels to Vietnam!” or “the Spratlys and Paracels belong to Vietnam.”
Videos posted online show dozens of people shouting anti-China slogans and walking peacefully in the streets of both the capital Hanoi and the southern commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City.
Police largely left the protesters alone, unlike previous anti-China rallies when protesters were quickly dispersed.
Social activist Nguyen Van Phuong said he joined the rally in central Hanoi because of the China's aggressive moves in the South China Sea.
“[Xi] is head of the state that takes away islands [in the South China Sea], and his force beats up Vietnamese fishermen. He has no good intentions with Vietnam. Therefore, we do not want to welcome him here. We, the people, want to show him that," he said.
The Chinese president is scheduled to arrive Thursday in Vietnam for a two-day official visit.
According to official media reports, Xi will hold talks with senior Vietnamese officials and plans to deliver a speech before Vietnam’s legislature. It is unclear if he will mention the maritime territorial dispute over the South China Sea.
Observers say the address shows the importance that Vietnam attaches to its ties with the giant northern neighbor, and its willingness to repair the relations that have soured over the maritime disputes.
Calls for boycott
Tran Cong Truc, former head of Vietnam’s border affairs committee, said there are widespread calls to boycott Xi’s visit on social media in Vietnam, and he sympathizes with that sentiment.
“But to protect Vietnam’s rights and interest [over the South China Sea], even though it is tough, Vietnam needs to make full use of all chances to sit down and have talk with Chinese counterpart to find a peaceful solution to the dispute," Truc said.
The former government official said leaders of the two nations could not afford to miss the “heated and complicated” issue.
Vietnamese media quoted Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh as saying that “all major and strategic issues, including the South China Sea, would be on the agenda.”
More than 100 Vietnamese activists last month wrote an open letter to the authorities urging them to rescind the invitation to President Xi.
Anti-China sentiments are still running high in Vietnam, a year after Beijing placed a controversial oil rig in disputed waters, leading to several small maritime confrontations and deadly rioting in mainland Vietnam, which is one of several countries with competing maritime claims with China.
Beijing's assertive moves in the South China Sea, especially an artificial island building spree in recent months, have led many Vietnamese to warmly welcome the decision by the U.S. to send a warship near China’s man-made islands.
But the government in Hanoi gave a noncommittal response to the incident, choosing not to criticize the United States or China.
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.