China warns citizens in Vietnam after protests over economic zones

HANOI (Reuters) – China warned its citizens in Vietnam after protesters clashed with police over a government plan to create new economic zones for foreign investment that has fueled anti-Chinese sentiment in the country.

The protesters hold a banner that says "Do not lease land to China, even for any time" during a demonstration against a bill on the Special Economic Zone in Hanoi, Vietnam June 10, 2018. REUTERS / Staff [19659003] More than 100 protesters were arrested and dozens of police were injured in a protest in central Vietnam on Sunday, one of several demonstrations across the country against opponents of special economic zones who fear it is dominated by Chinese investors.

The Chinese embbady in Hanoi posted a notice on its website that referred to the protests as "illegal gatherings" that included some "anti-China content".

"The Chinese embbady in Vietnam is paying close attention to the relevant events and reminds Chinese citizens in Vietnam to pay attention to safety when traveling," the notice states.

The National Assembly of Vietnam agreed on Monday to delay a vote on the bill, which would allow foreign investors to lease land for up to 99 years and offer greater incentives and fewer restrictions than currently in the country.

Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, president of the Assembly, said protesters may have misinterpreted the nature of the bill.

"People should stay calm, believe in the decisions of the party and the state, especially in the fact that the National Assembly always listens to people's opinions when it talks about bills," Ngan said.

Public protests are not uncommon in Vietnam and are often quickly repressed by the police.

On Sunday, protesters in the central province of Binh Thuan threw petrol bombs and bricks at police and damaged offices and vehicles of the local government, state media reported.

Police stand around a bus after arresting protesters during a demonstration against a bill on the Special Economic Zone in Hanoi, Vietnam June 10, 2018. REUTERS / Staff

Police arrested 102 protesters, reported the online newspaper VnExpress Monday, citing local police. The report says that dozens of police officers were injured in the incident.

In the capital, Hanoi, police arrested more than a dozen protesters marching down a busy street, some carrying anti-Chinese banners, including one saying "Not renting land to China for even a day."

Activists said several protesters were also arrested in the country's economic center, Ho Chi Minh City.

The government has said that the bill aims to boost development in three provinces in northern, central and southern Vietnam and provide "space for institutional experiments."

The bill said land in the zones could be leased for up to 99 years, but Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc told local media last week that the deadline would be reduced, although he did not say how much.

The protests come at a time of growing tensions over the disputed South China Sea, almost all of which is claimed by China.

Vietnam is among several countries in the region that have claims in the South China Sea, through which an estimated $ 5 billion in trade is transferred each year.

Some of the protesters at Sunday's demonstrations were also protesting against another bill on cybersecurity amid widespread concern that the law would cause economic damage and stifle dissent online in the country ruled by the Communists.

The United States and Canada urged Vietnam on Friday to delay the vote on the proposed cybersecurity law. The National Assembly plans to vote on Tuesday.

Report of Khanh Vu and Mai Nguyen; Additional report by John Ruwitch in SHANGHAI; Edition by Michael Perry


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