Petrol bombs and rocks were thrown at the People’s Committee headquarters in southeastern Binh Thuan province, with the authorities saying 102 people were being held.
They oppose draft cyber and economic-zone legislation that would give foreign investors 99-year leases on the sites in Van Don in Quang Ninh province, Bac Van Phong in Khanh Hoa province and Phu Quoc in Kien Giang province. The parliamentary vote was delayed from this week in what was seen as a major climb down.
The Chinese embassy in Hanoi warned its citizens to be careful, referring to the rallies as “illegal gatherings” with “anti-China content”.
Protests were seen over the weekend in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Danang and Nha Trang.
Anti-China banners were on display. One read: “No leasing land to China even for one day.”
The authorities have faced the greatest public anger in Binh Thuan, where demonstrators threw rocks, set vehicles alight and briefly occupied municipal government officers.
China is Vietnam’s biggest trade partner with investment reaching US$15 billion last year and bilateral trade exceeded the US$100-billion mark for the first time in 2017, China’s state-run Xinhua reported.
In 2014, China’s move to send an exploratory oil rig into waters contested with Vietnam sparked bloody anti-China violence and coastguards clashes at sea.
China once colonised Vietnam, the two countries fought a border war in 1979, in which Hanoi won a decisive victory, and Vietnam contests Chinese control over numerous South China Sea islands.
The legislation, although not explicitly mentioning any country, offered firms in SEZs greater incentives and few restrictions, in an attempt to boost growth and encourage investment.
Protesters claimed Chinese investors would be given leases in the three areas of the northeast, southeast and southwest of the communist country. The proposed zone in Quang Ninh is of particular concern as it is considered close to the border with China’s Guangxi region.
In Binh Thuan, hostility to the Chinese and anger over industrial pollution and land disputes have fuelled the protest.
Demonstrators are also objecting to a cybersecurity bill, due to be voted on today (Tuesday). Human Rights Watch said it would give the authorities sweeping powers to crush dissent online.
The law would require Facebook, Google and other international firms to store data on Vietnamese users and open offices in the country.
“The National Assembly urges people to stay calm and trust decisions made by the Communist Party,” National Assembly chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan said online. “Draft laws discussed by the National Assembly always receive public opinions.”
Binh Thuan. Rioting is deeply unusual in Vietnam. Picture credit: YouTube