Protests Erupt Across Vietnam In Response To Economic Zoning Bill

Local authorities arrested over 100 protesters in central Vietnam on June 10 after demonstrations over an economic zoning bill turned violent. Law enforcement officers responded with firehoses and tear gas in the Binh Tuan province when members of the public vandalized a government building and set cars ablaze, according to The New York Times. VnExpress also reported that dozens of officers sustained injuries during the protests.

Demonstrators took to the streets on Sunday to protest the National Assembly vote scheduled for the following day. The new zoning draft bill would roll back current restrictions to allow outside investors to lease land in Vietnam for up to 99 years. Officially, the economic zoning bill aims to revitalize the economy by creating environments conducive to business, particularly tech industries, according to the BBC. However, protesters argue that the bill is a means to allow Chinese investors to buy control over large portions of Vietnam. Photos of the protests, captured by Reuters staff, showed demonstrators holding signs that read, “No leasing land to China even for one day” in Hoan Kiem Lake.

The economic zone division is seen as a pretext for re-exertion of Chinese control in the region. The rift between Vietnam and China remains extremely divisive, with the two countries still disputing control over islands in the South China Sea. Border disputes between China and Vietnam were settled as recently as 40 years ago, BBC reports. China’s Hanoi embassy warned Chinese citizens in Vietnam of the anti-China sentiment fueling the protests and pledged to watch the developing situation carefully.

According to Reuters, Vietnam’s Prime Minister, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, told local news affiliates that the duration, 99 years, wasn’t finalized and suggested that the number could be lower. The Chairwoman of the Assembly, Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, told Reuters that the bill may not affect Vietnam in the way that protestors are concerned about. “People should stay calm, believe in the decisions of the party and the state, especially in the fact that the National Assembly is always listening to the people’s opinions when discussing the bills.”

After the Sunday protests, lawmakers postponed the vote to later this year, according to media reports. Initially the protests served a dual purpose, as two draft bills were originally scheduled for voting on Monday. But the second bill was not delayed.

On June 12, Vietnam’s National Assembly voted to pass a bill giving the Vietnamese government more leeway when censoring online content. According to Bloomberg, the new law will force companies like Google and Facebook to store data in Vietnam-based servers, giving the government greater control over user information.

Critics of the bill argued that it constituted a crackdown on free speech. The U.S. and Canada weighed in last week, worried that the law would hamper efforts to grow an innovative tech industry in Vietnam and warning that the law itself violated international trade laws. The law will go into effect on January 1.

In sum, protests, including violent ones, are not uncommon in Vietnam. The clash between protesters and police on Sunday evidences the depth of frustration that many in the country feel over the what they see as attempts by China to regain control over the islands. To date, the National Assembly has not released a time for the postponed economic zoning vote but protests may erupt again if the language of the bill remains the same when a date is set for later this year.