Protest in San Jose at Century Mall on June 12, 2018 - Photos by Jackie Huynh
On June 12, 2018, over 3,000 Vietnamese Americans gathered in front of San Jose's Grand Century Mall to protest Vietnam’s three proposed special economic zones (SEZ), which would provide greater incentives and relax restrictions surrounding land leases to foreign investors. Vietnamese land in Van Don, North Van Phong, and Phu Quoc would be eligible for lease in 99-year terms, a notion that protesters are rebuking with signs of a crossed-out 99 and a slogan that reads, “No leasing land to China even for one day.”
Across the world, Vietnamese citizens are practicing the same speech. Vietnamese citizens are using social media to leverage and organize protests in several cities in Vietnam, resulting in the arrest of over 100 individuals and hundreds more confronting law enforcement’s tear gas and fire hoses. Following these events, the National Assembly of Vietnam also passed a cybersecurity bill to quash online dissent of its citizens, further threatening future citizen-led statements against government policies.
The three proposed zones are located along Vietnam’s coastline from the Northeast, Southeast, to Southwest. These locations are prime for business hubs, trade, and control over the seas; thus potentially destabilizing Southeast Asia by offering such advantages to the highest outside bidder. The prospect of opening these zones for countries like China to lease Vietnamese land for almost a century is extremely concerning. Vietnam already has long-standing disputes with other countries like China and Taiwan. In the case of the Formosa Plastics Group, the Taiwanese factory saw Vietnam’s worst rioting in 2014 when four workers were killed and several foreign companies were looted and set ablaze. In 2016, the Formosa plant flushed toxic chemicals into Vietnam’s coastline in an environmental disaster that killed marine life along the Gulf of Tonkin. Vietnam and China are currently disputing claims to the Paracel Islands and others in the South China Sea. By allowing a long-standing foreign threat to occupy its coastlines, Vietnam becomes vulnerable to this modern-day, economic colonization. These policies lead to disputes that further deteriorate peace in this critical region of the world.
“Leasing the economic zones to China simply means voluntarily allowing China to ‘colonize’ those powerful economic and military strategic zones. What will happen to more than half of a million people who are currently living there?” asks Jenny Do, a San Jose attorney and activist. “The Vietnamese government cannot stop China from relocating its citizens there, paving the way for them to demand autonomy after the ‘lease’ expires. To regain title and possession of the zones, the next generations may have to go to war with China, while their predecessors have enjoyed pocketing leasing ‘benefits’ for their own. Just look at Crimea: the Russians claimed that the people of Crimea demanded ‘autonomy’ and used force to annex the entire region to Russia, under the pretext of respecting the will of the people."
This is why the issue resonates with so many Vietnamese Americans--the concept of an aggressive and oppressive invasion couple with the persecution of free speech is all too familiar to these first and second generation war refugees and families.
See the graphic for a glimpse into the ongoing conversation on how to help the peace-making effort in Vietnam.
According to reports, the laws governing SEZs are currently being reviewed by the National Assembly and a vote was postponed this week to take place in the coming weeks.
Footage from June 12th, 2018 in San Jose, CA by Ne Du.
Footage of protest in Vietnam from Taiwan News
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Liza Nguyễn Chu
Liza is a Vietnamese-American political junkie, world citizen, and daugther. Born and grazed in Stockton, CA, the migratory hub of many Southeast Asian families, she has developed a passion for addressing the major social justice issues of our time: income inequality and building healthy pipelines for underserved communities, all while preserving the beautiful earth that we inherited. In her free time, Liza runs a quirky blog and can be found weekending in San Jose to find the best phở gà in town. Or bánh canh. Or ốc len xào dừa. A graduate of UC Davis, she happily reports political news to Chopsticks Alley straight from the State Capitol, where she works as a legislative aide.