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Vietnam just broke up an anti-Chinese protest it wholly agrees with

June 3, 2013
June 3, 2013

Vietnam’s government is very unhappy with China over disputed territory in the South China Sea. More than 100 Vietnamese protesters echoed their government’s displeasure on Sunday, staging a demonstration and carrying signs saying, “Shame on you China bully.”

So the Vietnamese rounded up the protestors and carted them off to jail.

Welcome to the upside-down world of Asian civil protests, where some governments crack down on activism of any kind—even when it’s broadly in line with the government’s own agenda.

In Hanoi on Sunday, 15 protest ringleaders were carted off in buses after police clashed with anti-Chinese protesters. Both Vietnam and China claim the islet chains known as the Spratly and Paracel islands, and the dispute flared up last month when Vietnam said a Chinese ship had rammed a fishing boat off its coast.

On Friday Vietnam’s prime minister, Nguyen Tan Dung, gave the keynote address at a meeting of the world’s defense ministers in Singapore. He called the disputes in the South China Sea “threatening to regional security” and, without explicitly naming China, said that “somewhere in the region, there have emerged preferences for unilateral might, groundless claims, and actions that run counter to international law and stem from imposition and power politics.”

The protesters might have been forgiven if they thought their protest would have tacit approval from the authorities. But the quasi-Communist authoritarian regimes of the region would still prefer that their citizens keep quiet and let their leaders do the talking.

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