Has Vietnam signaled a shift in its China policy by allowing public observances of a deadly confrontation with Chinese forces in the Spratly Islands nearly three decades ago?

Images from 1988 sea battle between Vietnam and China

The naval clash between Vietnam and China over Johnson South Reef, aka Gac Ma Island, was the last battle between the two communist neighbors. It occurred on March 14, 1988 when Chinese forces launched an attack on the island that was formerly under Vietnamese control. This resulted in the deaths of 64 Vietnamese soldiers, the sinking of two Vietnamese ships and China’s occupation of the reef as well as other islets and rocks in the Spratly Islands ever since.

Despite Vietnam’s heavy loss of human life and territory, the military incident was soon deliberately ignored by the Vietnamese government following a 1990 summit between Hanoi and Beijing in Chengdu that led to a normalization of ties in 1991.

In fact, for nearly three decades after that secret meeting, the clash was seen as a very sensitive, if not taboo, topic in Vietnam. Neither was the incident taught at schools or aired in political discourse. Recollection of the clash was often avoided by the one-party state’s highly censored media.

Any attempts by local activists to mark the bloody skirmish, moreover, were thwarted or forcefully interrupted by police.

Mood swing

However, there have been growing signs of a remarkable change in the official mood regarding the event in recent years, culminating in the battle’s 28th anniversary this year.

Prior to and on March 14, the seemingly non-existent clash was vividly recalled and widely covered by Vietnam’s media. State and party outlets deferentially called the 64 killed soldiers “heroes” or “martyrs” and explicitly described the incident as a battle against “Chinese invasion forces.”

Vietnamese shout anti-China slogans during a protest in Hanoi, Vietnam on March 14.

A high school in Ho Chi Minh City observed one minute of silence to commemorate the battle, which was hitherto virtually unheard of to many young Vietnamese. A song composed to honor the 64 fallen soldiers was published in Tuoi Tre, one of the country’s main and most-read newspapers.

Former Gac Ma soldiers and their sacrifices have been recognised and honored. The families of the 64 fallen soldiers have been supported by the government.

Not official but …

Though the Vietnamese government didn’t officially mark the battle’s 28th anniversary, memorial services for the fallen soldiers were organised at many localities across the country. Hundreds of war veterans, soldiers and local officials and people participated in these commemorative events, which were all reported by party and state outlets, including the ruling party’s two media mouthpieces, namely Nhan Dan (People) Newspaper and the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) Online Newspaper.

Reporting the memorial ceremony in Da Nang, Nhan Dan depicted the 64 killed soldiers as the “martyrs who died in a battle against Chinese forces to protect Gac Ma Island, part of Vietnam’s Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelago.”

Nhan Dan as well as other media outlets quoted a speech by Hoang Van Hoan, senior lieutenant colonel and former political commissar of Brigade 83, one of the units directly involved in the 1988 battle. In it, Hoan stressed the service was held not just to honor the 64 fallen heroes but also to remind younger generations of their duties to protect their country’s territory.

Most unusually, to the surprise of activists and many observers, rallies to remember the event and to denounce China’s growing aggressiveness in East Sea (the Vietnamese name for the South China Sea) in Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh City on March 14 weren’t disrupted by the authorities.

All of these developments around the battle’s 28th anniversary are noteworthy since Vietnam is a tightly controlled country, where public protest is prohibited and media strictly censored. Until recently, any reference to its past conflicts and unresolved maritime disputes with its giant neighbor were extremely sensitive.

They are even more telling given the fact that the party hierarchy has been very measured – and for many Vietnamese, too restrained – in its handling of disputes with China over the Spratly and Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.

In this context, there’s no doubt that Vietnam’s main state media outlets, notably the party’s two official mouthpieces, were able to use such unambiguous language to depict the incident because the CPV’s leadership allowed them to do so.

Party’s motives

The question being asked is why the party hierarchy permitted more public discussion, commemoration and coverage of the 1988 battle this year.

There are a number of reasons for this. One is that calls not to ignore past skirmishes with China have become increasingly numerous and vocal. They come from both outside and within the CPV.

For example, many people in academic and media circles have increasingly stressed that their country must not disregard the battles against China, including the 1974 Paracel battle, the 1979 border war with China and the 1988 Spratlys clash. Instead, it’s being argued that the people must be fully informed about these events and that they should be taught at Vietnamese schools.

In an interview with Tuoi Tre on March 13, a senior official in the party’s Central Propaganda Department also said it’s very necessary to provide the Vietnamese people with full and truthful accounts of past events in Sino-Vietnamese relations. He also said the country’s state media and political system must take responsibility for this.

The relaxation in official attitudes has also taken place because perceptions of China within the CPV’s hierarchy has changed. While it’s unclear whether the recent changeover in party leadership is a factor, it’s evident that the leadership is now more expressive and critical of China’s historical and current behaviors.

South China Sea factor

The fundamental reason why the Vietnamese public has vehemently called on the CPV to reconsider its past and present relations with China – and the ruling party has been apparently willing to do so – is China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea.

China’s HD 981 oil-drilling rig in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone

If the placement of China’s HD 981 oil-drilling rig in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in May 2014 marked the lowest ebb in Vietnam’s relationship with China since 1991, the latter’s latest series of aggressive actions in the disputed sea further compounded Hanoi’s concerns about China’s ambitions.

These “actions” consist of Beijing’s deployment of missiles on Woody Island in the Paracel Islands chain, which is also claimed by Vietnam, and its rapid militarization and massive reclamation of islands, including the Johnson South Reef, in contested waters surrounding the Spratly Islands.

China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea in past years has forced the CPV to increase Vietnam’s military capabilities. Hanoi was the world’s eighth-biggest arms importer from 2011-2015 according to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Vietnam has also moved to upgrade its relations with major powers, notably the US.

The ratchet is now being turned on Vietnam’s public posture on Sino-Vietnamese history. Beijing’s recent aggressive and expansionist agenda has convinced the CPV that it no longer needs to avoid mentioning its past conflicts with China. In a further turn of the lever, Hanoi is also more willing to use the coverage and commemoration of these events as a means to express its discontent over China’s behaviors.

Whilst Vietnam’s past conflicts with China are still far from being recalled in the same manner and to the same degree as its two deadly wars against France and the US, the party’s new permissiveness in recalling the 1988 battle marks a significant change in the way the CPV deals with Vietnam’s past and its present relations with its northern giant.

Xuan Loc Doan is a research fellow at the Global Policy Institute. He completed a PhD in International Relations at Aston University, UK in 2013. His areas of interest and research include Vietnam’s domestic and foreign policy, ASEAN’s relations with major powers, and international politics in the Asia-Pacific region.

The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Asia Times.

Asia Times Financial is now live. Linking accurate news, insightful analysis and local knowledge with the ATF China Bond 50 Index, the world's first benchmark cross sector Chinese Bond Indices. Read ATF now. 

Xuan Loc Doan

Dr Xuan Loc Doan researches and writes on a number of areas. These include the domestic and foreign policy of the UK, Vietnam and China, US-China relations and geopolitical issues in the Indo-Pacific region.

Join the Conversation

22 Comments

  1. I really enjoyed the movie, it was fun, I quite liked the funny approach of venom, it added to the movie, gave has a few laughs, and venom itself was awesome, it felt like we were actually watching venom, straight from the books (not 100 but pretty close) and I see people say

  2. I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my own blog and was curious what all is required to get set up? I’m assuming having a blog like yours would cost a pretty penny? I’m not very internet savvy so I’m not 100 sure. Any tips or advice would be greatly appreciated. Appreciate it

  3. Kurye olarak hizmet veren kişiler, bulundukları lokasyondaki her adrese en kısa sürede ulaşma yolunu bilirler. Üstelik verilen bu görevi hava, trafik ve buna benzer diğer olumsuz şartlardan etkilenmeden yerine getirirler. Yani iş hayatı başta olmak üzere hayatın hemen her alanında önemli görevleri üstlenebilir ve başarıyla yerine getirebilirler. Özellikle büyük şehirlerdeki trafik kaosu ve adres konusundaki karmaşa göze alınırsa, kurye hizmetlerinden faydalanmanın bazı durumlarda zorunlu hale geleceği anlaşılabilir. Örneğin İstanbul’un bir noktasından diğer bir noktasına acil şekilde önemli bir evrak ulaştırmak gerektiğinde ya da hastanızın ihtiyacı olan ilacı acil ve güvenli bir şekilde ulaştırmak gerektiğinde, İstanbul moto kurye hizmetimizden faydalanarak sorununuza çözüm üretebilirsiniz.

  4. Hiya, I’m really glad I’ve found this info. Nowadays bloggers publish just about gossip and web stuff and this is actually annoying. A good blog with interesting content, this is what I need. Thank you for making this web-site, and I will be visiting again. Do you do newsletters by email?

  5. Hiya, I’m really glad I have found this info. Today bloggers publish just about gossip and internet stuff and this is actually frustrating. A good blog with interesting content, this is what I need. Thank you for making this site, and I’ll be visiting again. Do you do newsletters by email?

  6. Hello there. I discovered your website by the use of Google while searching for a comparable matter, your website came up. It appears to be great. I have bookmarked it in my google bookmarks to come back then.

  7. Si deseas conocer en qué comercios puedes adquirir tus electrodomésticos Siemens, utiliza el buscador disponible en la web, el cual te mostrará según la zona que indiques los establecimientos que comercializan esta marca alemana. Los capacitores son dispositivos para almacenar electrones; son usados para incrementar el torque de arranque y factor de potencia de los motores eléctricos (Mf / mfd / microfaradios). Los capacitores de arranque están diseñados únicamente para un servicio intermitente: típicamente para no más de 20 arranques por hora (ciclo de 3 minutos) con cada periodo de arranque sin exceder de 3 segundos. Los capacitores de trabajo, a diferencia del de arranque, están diseñado para un servicio continuo.

  8. Al margen un sello con el Escudo Nacional, que dice: Estados Unidos Mexicanos.- Secretaría de Hacienda y Crédito Público.- Servicio de Administración Tributaria. El trabajo puede ser construcción nueva, ampliación, remodelación, mantenimiento reparación integral de las construcciones. El trabajo puede ser construcción nueva, ampliación, remodelación, mantenimiento reparación integral de dichas construcciones. Incluye el comercio al por mayor de refacciones y accesorios de electrodomésticos menores y de aparatos de línea blanca.

  9. Es un Electrolux y desde que lo puse, no para de hacer gorgoritos y un ruido que según el servicio tencnico es normal. Para mi hace una ruidera que no es normal, pero si el servicio técnico te dice que es normal, no tienes nada que hacer. Al técnico habrá que consultar pero es que manda webs, da igual lo que pagues eh, siempre tiranizado por la incompetencia tecnológica (esta sin duda la es). El modelo es un AEG, aunque al parecer el problema de es de una marca, sino del electrodoméstico en sí.

  10. Un técnico especializado se desplazará, evaluará su estado y le orientará sobre la mejor solución. Nuestros técnicos se encuentran en continuo proceso de formación, de ese modo le garantizamos la mejor atención en la reparación de electrodomésticos frigorificos. En Electroprogreso somos pioneros en la creación de un departamente de calidad en el servicio técnico. Los técnicos de nuestra empresa además de ser profesionales, conocen perfectamente como diagnosticar la avería de su Frigorífico en un tiempo record, además la reparación de Frigoríficos la hacemos en domicilio, con lo que en el mismo día que se la averié, se lo reparamos y le damos todas las garantías. Realizamos servicio de asistencia técnica a domicilio en Sevilla y comunidad autónoma.

  11. Sin embargo, si tenemos en cuenta que estos electrodomésticos actuales de inspiración pasada se consideran aparatos de diseño, comprenderemos su elevado precio frente a los electrodomésticos tradicionales. No obstante, como servicio técnico de reparación de electrodomésticos , nuestros técnicos vuelven a coincidir en que los aparatos antiguos parecen haber sido fabricados pensando en una mayor durabilidad frente a los nuevos.

  12. El Servicio técnico de reparación de lavavajillas LG ofrece a sus clientes rapidez y toda la garantía de una gran marca. El Servicio técnico de reparación de secadoras LG ofrece a sus clientes rapidez y toda la garantía de una gran marca. SAT España Servicio Técnico Oficial, S.L. es un servicio técnico oficial regulado por la Comunidad Autónoma de Madrid, pero no es el servicio técnico oficial de la marca Lg. Reparamos, Instalamos, damos mantenimiento y vendemos accesorios y repuestos para todo tipo de electrodomésticos, aire acondicionado, calentadores, termos y calderas. También somos Servicio Técnico Oficial de Cata, Nodor y Apelson en la Comunidad de Madrid.

  13. Espero que siga pensando la gente como lo haces tu. Más que nada, porque habrá un vehículo en el mundo que se verá poco en las carreteras, siendo el mejor en cuanto a comodidad y estética, y que la marquitis siga instaurada en el pensamiento general de la gente. Las cabezas cuadradas parece que estaban en Alemania, pero en España hay que empezar a hacer recuento.

  14. Uno de nuestros consejos finales para que realices en casa es utilizar un poco de lubricante en la parte trasera de tu Lavadoras, específicamente en el eje del motor, puedes utilizar un pañito seco para que logres remover de forma radical las pelusas que pueden haber acumuladas aquí. Siempre realizaremos cualquier servicio con rapidez y fiabilidad, y a los precios más asequibles que podrá encontrar en el mercado.

  15. Si buscas profesionales en la reparación de frigoríficos, lavadoras, lavavajillas, secadoras, cocinas, hornos, microondas y vitrocerámicas de la marca Bosch en cualquier punto de España, ponte en contacto con nuestro Servicio de Asistencia Técnica Bosch a través del teléfono: 929 883. Nuestros técnicos están especializados en la reparación de termos BOSCH de todo tipo.

  16. El proceso de fabricación incluye el corte de la materia prima bajo plano muestra, así como el acabado del producto mediante recubrimiento electrolítico, plásticos y pinturas, desengrasado, pulido por vibración y electropulido, así como tratamientos térmicos.

  17. Ahora se va imponiendo y es fácil observar este proceso en talleres de todo tipo, por ejemplo del mencionado anteriormente, el decoletaje , que es la industria que se dedica a la fabricación de todo tipo de tornillería y similares para otras empresas.

  18. Si desea contactar con nuestra empresa de mecanizado lo puede hacer bajo este formulario de contacto mediante email si lo prefiere acudiendo a nuestra tienda y le atenderemos personalmente. Nuestra gran experiencia en el sector del mecanizado nos permite tanto en nuestra cadena de producción, como a pie de obra, analizar la problemática particular de nuestro cliente.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *