Taiwanese businesspeople have been investing in Vietnam for more than 20 years. These investments total US$28 billion and their performance has been highly praised by the Vietnamese government. Whether in terms of business, social relations or intermarriage, the two countries maintain a close relationship. It was quite unexpected that these friendly relations would be weak enough to suddenly break under the weight of the Vietnamese people’s anti-Chinese protests.
Since Vietnam has a long history of anti-Chinese sentiment, the protests have not come as a surprise. During a visit to the Vietnam Museum of National History in Hanoi many years ago, I saw two large white stone carvings in the museum with the text “The sisters Trung Trac and Trung Nhi, two national heroes of resistance against China.” These two sisters were two heroes killed during resistance against Chinese aggression during the Eastern Han period.
The best known anti-Chinese activity in recent history was when North Vietnam turned on China after defeating the South in April 1975, despite the longstanding massive economic and military assistance China had given to the north in its war against the US. They expelled all Chinese within their borders and purged domestic pro-Chinese factions. This was the cause of China’s punitive war against Vietnam in 1979.
In 1975, Vietnam adopted an anti-Chinese policy in Vietnam, forcing people of Chinese ethnicity to obtain Vietnamese citizenship, banning Chinese-language schools and newspapers and Chinese organizations, forcing Chinese people to take Vietnamese names, confiscating Chinese-owned companies and placing restrictions on the positions that people of Chinese ethnicity could hold in the ruling party, the government and the military.
These measures were in place until 1986, when a new policy was adopted and the restrictions on business involvement for ethnic Chinese were gradually relaxed. Because the economic activity of ethnic Chinese had been suppressed for so long, the Vietnamese economy was on the brink of collapse, which led to a change in policy that allowed the participation of ethnic Chinese.
At the same time, Taiwanese businesspeople were invited to help revive the economy. This demonstrates that Vietnam has used Taiwanese businesspeople for economic and political reasons.
Despite all this, Vietnamese still harbor distrust of ethnic Chinese. The recent anti-Chinese protests set off by Chinese oil exploration near the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) in the South China Sea easily stirred up anti-Chinese nationalist sentiment, which only goes to show that the Vietnamese do not approve of and are not grateful for, the investments of Taiwanese businesspeople in Vietnam which has assisted Vietnam’s growth.
Vietnamese should be able to recognize the Taiwanese businesspeople that have invested in their areas. In southern Vietnam, it is unlikely that people don’t know where the managers of Taiwanese business are from, because the numbers of Chinese businesspeople that have invested there are very small. In the South, any factory with visible Chinese characters was destroyed which implies direct targeting.
Why didn’t Vietnamese military and police maintain law and order around Taiwanese factories during the protests? One of the reasons for this is likely to be tacit governmental approval of the protests.