Vietnam should openly honor the sacrifices of Vietnamese who lost their lives in a 1979 border war with China and in skirmishes over disputed island chains in the South China Sea, according to an online petition released this week by local and overseas activists.
The anniversary of a March 14, 1988 skirmish in the Spratly Islands in which 64 Vietnamese sailors lost their lives should be especially acknowledged, the declaration said, adding, “The marking of their sacrifices is not only a [necessary] historical event, it is also our duty and honor when our country is daily threatened by the hegemonic ambitions of China.”
Vietnam and China both claim jurisdiction over the potentially oil-rich Spratlys, an archipelago of reefs and small islands that cover more than 425,000 square kilometers (164,000 square miles) of water but include less than five square kilometers (two square miles) of land.
China has asserted its “indisputable sovereignty” over the entire South China Sea, called the East Sea in Vietnam, saying its claims stretch back at least to the 1930s, when official maps in Beijing depicted the vast body of water as Chinese territory.
Official disregard of Friday’s anniversary of the fight on the Spratlys, and of the anniversaries of the border war and other conflicts between China and Vietnam since 1979, “shows us that the government of Vietnam is bowing down before China,” a Vietnamese dissident now living in Europe told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Wednesday.
“The government of Vietnam does not think of the feelings of the people for the country, or of the sacrifices of thousands of soldiers and thousands of civilians during the  border war with China,” said Nguyen Minh Can, formerly a vice chairman of the administration of Vietnam’s capital Hanoi.
“[This declaration] shows us that people care about the country, about our border, and the sovereignty of our country,” he said.
Concern over tensions
Hanoi has sought over the years to block Vietnamese demonstrations openly critical of China, fearing an escalation of tensions between the two countries, and authorities in January and February used loudspeakers and “brazen group dancing to the melody of Chinese tunes” to drown out unofficial commemoration ceremonies of battles, according to the signed declaration.
“They should not block any meetings held to commemorate skirmishes in the Spratlys, on the border, or in the Paracels,” another South China Sea island chain claimed by China, Can said.
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung should officially commemorate these events, acknowledge the sacrifices of soldiers and sailors from both the northern and southern parts of the country “without discrimination,” and teach the history of Vietnam’s conflicts with China in the country’s schools, he said.
“But we need to wait to see what they are going to do.”
Meanwhile, the Vietnamese charity Golden Heart Foundation has announced plans to begin fundraising for a memorial in South-Central Vietnam’s Kanh Hoa province honoring those who fell in the 1988 battle in the Spratlys, Vietnam’s Tuo Trei newspaper said on Wednesday.
The project, which will call for contributions both “at home and abroad,” will be officially launched in Da Nang City on Friday, Tuo Trei said.
Reported by An Nguyen for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.