Fresh anti-China demos in Vietnam

Demonstrators in the capital were vastly outnumbered by riot police.

Hanoi: Dozens of Vietnamese protested outside the Chinese embassy in Hanoi for the second weekend in a row on Sunday, as a maritime dispute raised tensions between the two communist neighbours.

About 50 people with Vietnamese flags sang patriotic songs and held signs proclaiming Vietnamese sovereignty over two South China Sea archipelagos which are at the centre of a long-running dispute with Beijing.

In southern Ho Chi Minh City about 250 people held a similar rally but police sealed off the Chinese consulate area with barbed wire barricades to prevent protesters from approaching, a witness said.

Although authoritarian Vietnam tolerates small land rights rallies, advocates of other political causes risk arrest -- making demonstrations unusual.

Security officers detained at least one person in Ho Chi Minh City, the witness said, while in Hanoi there were no apparent arrests but police ordered one foreign newspaper reporter to leave the area.

Demonstrators in the capital, who dispersed after just 30 minutes, were vastly outnumbered by riot police and other uniformed and plain-clothed security officers.

Vietnam and China are at loggerheads over sovereignty of the potentially oil-rich Paracel and Spratly archipelagos and surrounding waters.

Tensions are now at their highest level in years after Hanoi late last month accused Chinese marine surveillance vessels of cutting the exploration cables of an oil survey ship inside its exclusive economic zone.

Some protesters said they had returned to demonstrate again after Vietnam on Thursday alleged a Chinese fishing boat rammed the cables of another ship in the 200-nautical-mile zone.

Beijing countered by warning Vietnam to halt all activities that it says violate Chinese sovereignty in the disputed South China Sea waters.

"We protest for peace," said Quoc Dat, 30, wearing a T-shirt in the red and yellow colours of the Vietnamese flag. But he warned that if the Chinese "get into my country, they will lose".

In Ho Chi Minh City, where most demonstrators dispersed after about 90 minutes, one sign protested China`s "invasion" while another called for a boycott of Chinese products, a witness said.

On Friday the United States said it is "troubled" by the tensions between the Asian countries and called for a "peaceful" resolution to the crisis.

Temperatures have also risen this year between China and the Philippines, another claimant to the Spratly islands, where Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also say they have a stake.

"If China is successful in invading the East Sea they invade the world," said Pham Gia Minh, 55, a foreign business consultant watching the Hanoi demonstration. He was using the Vietnamese term for the South China Sea.

The protests came ahead of live-fire naval drills by Vietnam planned for Monday night off the country`s central coast, which Hanoi says are part of routine annual training.

Carl Thayer, a veteran analyst of Vietnam and the South China Sea, said last week that the anti-China protest serves the government`s interest "up to a point".

But the demonstrations could escalate into a bilateral issue, possibly sparking Chinese protests against Vietnam and aggravating relations with Vietnam`s giant neighbour, he said.

In December 2007, up to 300 protesters rallied outside the Chinese embassy on two consecutive weekends until Beijing said bilateral ties were at risk and Hanoi asked its people to stop demonstrating.

Vietnamese bitterly recall 1,000 years of Chinese occupation and, more recently, a 1979 border war. More than 70 Vietnamese sailors were killed in 1988 when the two sides had a battle off the Spratlys.

Bureau Report

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