A plan by Vietnam to buy 13 Chinese trains has come under fire amid simmering anti-China sentiment in the Southeast Asian nation.
The recent announcement to import trains worth more than $60 million for the first elevated railway project in Hanoi sparked harsh criticism in blog posts and on social media.
Nguyen Quang A, former director of the Institute of Development Studies, said the opposition was understandable because of concerns over the quality of Chinese products.
“Vietnamese markets are inundated with Chinese goods of very low quality," he said. "So they are suspicious of made-in-China trains.”
Last week, Transport Minister Dinh La Thang said Vietnam could not make a different decision because the capital borrowing contract stipulates Hanoi has to hire a Chinese project contractor and must buy the railway equipment from its northern neighbor.
Dissident lawyer Le Cong Dinh said he suspected that Thang had not fully disclosed what was really behind Vietnam’s decision.
Nguyen Quang A and other observers have said China is trying to exert its influence and to apply pressure on Vietnam through financial assistance.
The project, with a preferential loan from the Chinese government, has faced repeated delays, costing Vietnam approximately $300 million.
It has also been marred by accidents that left one person dead and many others injured. Thang last year publicly criticized the China Railway Sixth Group, the main contractor on the project. But Chinese media criticized the Vietnamese official for stoking nationalist sentiments.
Public concerns over the infrastructure contract have come amid anti-China sentiment triggered by Beijing’s assertive moves in disputed waters of the South China Sea, which sparked rioting in Vietnam last year.
China has not publicly responded to concerns about the project.
Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang was quoted last week by local media as telling visiting Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh the two countries should advance cooperation in finance, among other things.
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.