May 19, 2014
Beijing may be considering a military response to anti-China protests that have erupted in Vietnam over the last two weeks, with reports of an “endless stream” of PLA troops, tanks, missile launchers and other heavy artillery heading to Pingxiang city, where the Sino-Vietnamese War of 1979 began.
The protests were sparked by China’s attempt to place a huge state-owned oil rig inside Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) on May 2, a move Vietnam treated as an illegal act of provocation. The deployment of the rig was accompanied by 80 ships including 7 PLA warships which were confronted by Vietnamese forces. Chinese ships used water cannons and rammed the Vietnamese ships, fueling a dispute that has raged ever since with violent anti-China riots leading to the death of 21 protesters.
After Beijing sent two planes and five ships to evacuate Chinese citizens from Vietnam last week, assets of a very different nature are heading to the border region as reports emerge of PLA troops in full combat gear on their way to Pingxiang city.
“As yet another large-scale anti-China protest was scheduled for Sunday, Chinese netizens reported seeing an “endless stream” of PLA soldiers in full combat gear at Chongzuo train station, apparently on their way to the 97-kilometre China-Vietnam border at Pingxiang city in southern China’s Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. The soldiers were said to have been accompanied by tanks, armoured vehicles, missile launchers and other heavy artillery,” reports the China Daily Mail.
Images posted on Chinese social media site Weibo show large numbers of troops, tanks and other armored vehicles on the move.
The report also notes that locals in Pingxiang city are evacuating “out of fears of an imminent military conflict,” partly driven by the fact that the Sino-Vietnamese War was launched from the same area in 1979, leading to the death of over 10,000 Vietnamese civilians.
More than 3,000 Chinese citizens have already been evacuated from Vietnam after huge riots in Ho Chi Minh City and other areas which have been characterized by protesters setting fire to factories, hunting down Chinese workers and attacking police.
Despite the history of the Vietnam War, the United States enjoys a close alliance with the country today and a clear majority of Vietnamese view the U.S. favorably. According to former U.S. Ambassadors Stephen Bosworth and Morton Abramowitz, Vietnam “may be the most pro-American country in Southeast Asia.”
Given Beijing’s closer ties with Moscow in light of an imminent deal that will see state-run Gazprom supply China with gas for a 30 year period, Washington’s response to the escalating tensions between China and Vietnam will be interesting to watch.