By Charlotte Lee
Protesters have rushed to the streets of Vietnam in objection to the government’s proposal of three new special economic zones (SEZs). This draft law allows foreign investors to lease Vietnamese land for up to 99 years.
The bill for SEZs was designed to create special administrative regions that would, under foreign investment, experience economic booms similar to that of Singapore. The regions are Van Don in Quang Ninh province, Bac Van Phong in Khanh Hoa province and Phu Quoc in Kien Giang province.
However, talk of SEZs has incited fear in citizens who believe that Chinese firms will expand and dominate Vietnamese soil. Despite Prime Minister’s pledge to adjust the 99 year time period, protesters marched with signs that said, “No leasing land to China even for one day.”
Tensions between China and Vietnam are rooted in a complex history between the two communist governments. Today’s citizens still remember the Sino-Vietnamese war in 1979, a border dispute that resulted in tens of thousands of casualties for the Vietnamese. Territorial disputes in the South China Sea have also been a cause of tension: in 1974, the Chinese killed 70 Vietnamese troops and 1988 another 60 sailors.
Nguyen Chi Tuyen, a dissident blogger with a large Facebook following, said that protestors aren’t concerned with how long investors are allowed to occupy Vietnamese land, rather just the concept of “selling our land to foreigners under the so called SEZs.”
Mass demonstrations have turned violent in Phan Ri, where protesters wearing face masks and scooter helmets attacked the police with stones found on streets. The police attempted to defend themselves using shields, and responded using tear gas and water cannons. 102 protesters have been arrested and will be questioned for their actions.
The National Assembly has urged citizens to remain calm and “trust in the decisions of the party and the state.”
In addition to SEZs, the Communist Party of Vietnam also proposed a cyber-security law that was approved by an overwhelming majority just yesterday. This law allows the government full access to user data from internet companies, and the ability to determine when content is “illegal”. According to the Human Rights Watch, “the bill targets free expression and access to information, and will provide one more weapon for the government against dissenting voices.” The government asserts that the internet will not be allowed for organization of people for “anti-state purposes” .
Because of the law’s vague wording, the government will have greater freedom to interpret and use the law as they see fit. Citizens may be punished for “negating the revolution achievement” or providing “misleading information causing confusion among the people”.