Vietnamese police detained at least 20 people yesterday as they broke up a protest in Hanoi against Beijing’s territorial claims in the disputed South China Sea, witnesses said.
Demonstrators were forced into waiting buses and taken to a rehabilitation center usually used to detain sex workers and drug users, after attempting to gather in defiance of a heavy police presence, one detainee said.
Another eyewitness estimated that 20 people had been detained.
Before being forcibly dispersed, the activists shouted “Down with China’s aggression,” and waved Vietnamese flags and banners.
The protest is the fourth such rally in just over a month to be staged by activists in Hanoi. There were no arrests at the previous three.
The demonstrations come at a time of rising regional tensions over the South China Sea, which is believed to contain vast oil and gas deposits.
Hanoi and Beijing have a long-standing territorial dispute over the Spratly (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島), and Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島), which both countries claim, and frequently trade diplomatic barbs over oil exploration and fishing rights.
Relations between the pair have soured recently, with Vietnam attracting China’s ire last month after it adopted a law that places the Spratlys under Hanoi’s sovereignty.
China’s state-backed China National Offshore Oil Corp also said it was seeking bids for the exploration of oil blocks in disputed waters — a move slammed by Vietnam.
Vietnam last year allowed a number of anti-China rallies to go ahead without interference, but later clamped down, briefly detaining dozens of people.
China says it has sovereign rights to the whole South China Sea, which also has major international shipping routes.
The sea is also subject to overlapping claims by Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.