Police break up anti-China rally in Vietnam

China and Vietnam have been at odds over the oil-rich Paracel and Spratly island groups.

Hanoi: Vietnamese police forcibly dispersed an anti-China rally on Sunday and arrested at least 10 people, including journalists, after a series of protests over tensions in the South China Sea.

Plain-clothed security agents moved in to detain the small group of demonstrators almost immediately after they gathered within sight of the Chinese embassy in the capital Hanoi, a reporter observed.

An unprecedented series of protests -- which are uncommon in authoritarian Vietnam -- had taken place peacefully in Hanoi over the past five weekends during an escalating maritime dispute in the South China Sea.

China and Vietnam have been at odds over the potentially oil-rich Paracel and Spratly island groups, which straddle vital commercial shipping lanes. While Vietnamese authorities allowed the earlier public protests as a means of expressing displeasure with Beijing, analysts said, they are now reining in the demonstrators after holding talks with China on the dispute.

Protesters struggled on Sunday morning as the security men led them onto a public bus, which had been on standby, and whisked them away to an unknown location. "We did not do anything!" they shouted.

Among those detained was a Vietnamese cameraman for Japan`s NHK television, who his company said was later released. Two other Vietnamese working for overseas news organisations were also being held, media sources said.

Tensions flared and protests began in late May after the Vietnamese accused Chinese marine surveillance vessels of cutting the exploration cables of an oil survey ship inside Hanoi`s exclusive economic zone.

In a second incident, Hanoi alleged that a Chinese fishing boat rammed the cables of another ship in the 200-nautical-mile zone. Vietnam then held a live-fire naval drill off its central coast.

The first Vietnamese rally drew close to 300 people, but after that numbers dwindled to about 100. Some protesters felt their actions were "in vain" after China and Vietnam held talks on June 25 in Beijing, one activist said.

At the meeting, both sides agreed to resolve their territorial disputes peacefully "through negotiations and friendly consultations", state media from the communist neighbours said.

The official Vietnam News said Beijing and Hanoi "also laid stress on the need to steer public opinion in the correct direction".

That meant Vietnam must get a hold on the demonstrators, while China should control its media, whose comments on the maritime issue have upset Vietnam, said Carl Thayer, a long-time Vietnam analyst based in Australia.

Before arresting the group in Hanoi, police announced over a megaphone that the dispute "has been the subject of talks between the two states".

They warned protesters "not to complicate the situation" and to leave the area.

Analysts say Vietnam has to balance its relationship with China by not overly offending its giant neighbour while also avoiding appearing weak before its own people, who have a longstanding dislike of the Chinese.

The top US military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, was in China on Sunday on a trip aimed at bolstering a fledgling security dialogue with Beijing, and discussions were set to include stability in the South China Sea.
The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan have all made claims to the Spratlys and tensions have also risen this year between Beijing and Manila on the sensitive issue.

Bureau Report