Vietnam’s communist regime has been accused of restricting coverage of widespread protests in China, fearing a knock-on effect in a country that has a track record of jailing activists and cracking down on dissidents.
Protests erupted in Chinese cities last week, with locals demonstrating against the country’s strict zero-COVID policy. They were prompted by widespread social media coverage of the deaths of 10 people in a fire in the Xinjiang region who were trapped in a building that had been sealed off to prevent a pandemic.
The protesters called for an end to one-party rule and the resignation of the country’s Communist Party President and Secretary-General Xi Jinping. Authorities responded by deploying police and security teams to arrest protesters and cordon off streets and university campuses.
Vietnam’s state-controlled media, which is tightly controlled by the Communist Party of Vietnam’s Central Commission for Propaganda and Education, has either remained silent or offered limited coverage.
Among the major newspapers, only Tuoi Tre reported online on the UN, US and UK response to the Chinese protests. The article was published on Monday evening, but Tuoi Tre removed the article before dawn the next day. Early Tuesday morning, the screen switched to an “Error (404)” message. The article title in a Google search contains the word “protest” but the content was deleted.
Online newspaper VietStock published an article on Tuesday afternoon saying Chinese stocks had slipped amid concerns over protests, briefly stating: “Protest spread over the weekend as people in major cities — including Beijing and Shanghai – took to the streets to protest China’s COVID control measures.”
Vietnam also censors news from international media. CNN’s coverage of the cable protests was cut off and the words “Weak signal, please understand” appeared on the screen.
“The fact that Vietnam does not report on the current situation of widespread protests in China is an expression of an unprofessional media system. Truth and honesty must be at the heart of decent journalism,” retired army colonel Nguyen Phu Hai told RFA.
He said the Chinese people’s resistance to “zero-COVID” is inevitable as they cannot be expected to suffer silent hunger and thirst or even die due to government policies.
Fear of damage to diplomatic relations with China
Hanoi-based businessman Dang Thanh (renamed for security reasons) said the Vietnamese side has not reported unfavorable information about communist China for fear of damaging diplomatic and economic ties between the two countries.
Former military intelligence officer Vu Minh Tri told RFA he doesn’t find the restriction of information by Vietnamese media strange, especially since Vietnam and China signed the 1999 treaty on the 16-word directive.
“The fate of the Chinese Communist Party and the communist regime in China is correlated with the fate of the Vietnamese Communist Party and the communist regime in Vietnam. In the context of the communist regime in China, which is being opposed by a large number of people and people demanding change, the silence of the Vietnamese side is understandable because they are in the same boat,” he said.
The Vietnamese government is afraid
Some observers believe state-controlled media are unwilling or dare to cover the protests because the Vietnamese government fears, given the many uncertainties in Vietnamese society, that protester sentiment is spreading from a country of more than 1.4 billion people .
In recent weeks, protests have erupted in Vietnam’s cities and provinces by people fearing for bank savings or lost money invested in businesses. These included violent scuffles outside the Hanoi headquarters of conglomerate Vingroup as protesters demanded the papers for vacation rentals in which they had invested. Authorities also feared widespread bankruns following the arrest of the chairmen of Ho Chi Minh City-based Van Thinh Phat Holdings Group for illegally issuing tens of millions of dollars worth of bonds and obtaining prime real estate in the city in a fraudulent way. Saigon Joint Stock Commercial Bank (SCB) depositors attempted to withdraw their funds over suspicion of their links to the lender.
Hanoi also has experience of protests in 2018 that took thousands of people off the streets of major cities to demonstrate against the Special Economic Zones law.
“The situation of the protests in China will affect the knowledge of the people of Vietnam. It encourages people’s desire for change. Especially recently, when the Vietnamese government has taken measures that are said to be indecisive to protect people’s interests when they have suffered great damage from banks,” entrepreneur Dang Thang said.
“China is a more totalitarian society than Vietnam and people still protest like that. Why are the Vietnamese not exercising their right to protest?” a lawyer and social activist from Hanoi told RFA on condition of anonymity for security reasons.
“The Vietnamese state has delayed the enactment of the demonstration law for many years. Hopefully there will be no further delays,” said scholar Ha Hoang Hop.
Duong Quoc Chinh, who has 65,000 followers on Facebook, said he thinks blocking messages about the Chinese protests in Vietnam is not effective because they spread on social media.
“What use is blocking information? People might think that the imposition of censorship means that the Vietnamese regime is being run by the Chinese,” he said, adding that he believes state TV broadcaster VTV will have to report the news soon.