More than 100 Vietnamese activists have written an open letter to government authorities urging them to rescind a reported plan to welcome Chinese President Xi Jinping to Hanoi.
They said the move would be “a necessary diplomatic response to assert our position against a neighbor that has oppressed and looked down upon the Vietnamese people.”
Social activist La Viet Dung, one of the signatories, said China’s aggressiveness with regard to South China Sea reclamation projects led him to sign the letter.
“The Chinese always claim the Spratlys and Paracels belong to them," he said. "They did reclamation works and built artificial islands, and hit Vietnamese fishermen in the disputed waters. Against that backdrop, Vietnam should not invite Xi to come visit.”
Hanoi and Beijing have not announced the exact date of Xi’s visit, but confirmed that he had accepted an invitation from Vietnamese leaders.
Meanwhile, on social networks, many users have replaced their profile photos with an edited image of the Chinese leader with words saying: “Go away! You are not welcomed here.”
Dissident blogger Le Anh Hung, who has taken to the streets over the years to join anti-China rallies, said he didn't have high hopes that Hanoi would retract its invitation.
“The Vietnamese government should listen to the public, to our concerns about Vietnam falling into China’s orbit," he said. "Our letter shows the authorities that we, the people, are more and more interested in the state of the country, especially when China does not hide its intention of expansionism over the South China Sea. Our voice is the wakeup call to the government with regard to its great reliance on China.”
The government has not responded to the group’s letter, which also calls for Hanoi to boost alliances with the nations that share the same concerns about Beijing’s actions in the South China Sea, such as the United States, India and Japan.
The petition asks Vietnamese leaders to follow in the Philippines' footsteps by “taking China to the international courts.”
A similar call was initiated by prominent members of Vietnam's Communist Party last year, when relations between Hanoi and Beijing hit their lowest point in decades.
Anti-China sentiments are still running high in Vietnam as Beijing seeks to strengthen its claim over virtually all of the South China Sea.
In a key speech to Vietnam’s legislature Tuesday to outline national goals for the next five years, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said the escalation of tension over the South China Sea has had “negative impacts” on Vietnam’s social and economic development. But the premier fell short of mentioning China by name.
He then vowed to defend national sovereignty and uphold peace and stability as well as to improve the livelihoods of people who are living on islands that are at the forefront of Vietnam’s maritime territory.
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.