Our newest section on The Vietnamese Magazine, the “On This Day” series, aims to introduce contemporary Vietnamese history of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries by explaining political events that occurred today in the past.
What happened on June 5, 2011?
Public demonstrations and protests are sporadic in Vietnam. But on this day, 10 years ago in 2011, it was the beginning of the longest anti-China protest movement in Vietnam after 1975.
For almost three months of the summer of that year, a total of 11 protests happened across Vietnam every Sunday, primarily conducted in Hanoi and Saigon, where the Chinese embassy and consulate were placed. Many people call this movement “The Flaming Summer” (Mùa Hè Đỏ Lửa).
Why were people protesting on that day?
Since China established the eleven-dash line map (now the nine-dash line map) claiming sovereignty of various regions in the South China Sea, the Vietnamese people have always been angered by China’s claims to the Paracel and Spratly islands, known as the Truong Sa and Hoang Sa islands by the Vietnamese.
In the summer of 2011, people especially felt provoked by the actions of Chinese vessels in the contested sea. In late May, the news reported that the Chinese vessels were harassing Vietnamese survey vessels and disrupting the Vietnamese vessels’ activities. Later in early June, Chinese ships once again harassed Vietnamese survey ships.
What was the regime’s response to the protests?
After supposedly tolerating the protests for a short period of time, the regime nevertheless decided to crack down on the protestors. In late August, the police began to detain people who participated in the protests, forcing 40 protestors onto two buses right after the last rally started on August 21. It was confirmed that at least 47 protestors were arrested. The Hanoi local government warned people against protesting any further.
What is the legacy of the protests during that summer?
The waves of anti-China protests in 2011 were not the first nor the last. Earlier in 2007 and 2008, there were also anti-China protests by many bloggers and pro-democracy activists, which also resulted in the government’s crackdown. Later in 2014 and 2018, there were also new anti-China protests.
However, the protests in 2011 were significant because of their duration, scope, and effect on Vietnam’s pro-democracy discourse. In many ways, it was an unprecedented movement.
Compared to other anti-China protests, the 2011 protest movement had the most prolonged duration, lasting the entire summer. The demonstrations were also massive compared to others, with the participation of hundreds of people. Some of the rallies were estimated to have around a thousand people. This fact is exceptionally significant for a country infamously known for repressing protests.
Although the government repressed the protests, they still demonstrated to the Vietnamese government that the people could disagree with the government and willingly show it. Additionally, the protests also sowed the seeds of government criticism among the people. The movement provoked many intellectuals and highly-credited ex-government officers to speak out against the Communist Party and demand democracy.
Many participants of these protests, such as The Vietnamese Magazine’s co-founder and editor Trinh Huu Long, would later become pro-democracy activists.
The protests in 2011 were the beginning of “a prolonged civil society movement that still exists nowadays,” said Long.