Vietnam: “Under Threat of Invasion”?

Chinalco‘s investment in Rio Tinto‘s Australian operations wasn’t uncontroversial, but was approved by Australia’s authorities. Chinalco’s investment in Vietnam’s bauxite mining almost definitely also will be officially aprroved. But there are misgivings in Vietnam. Damage for the environment and farming – coffee, cashew, and tea -, and looming displacement of ethnic minorities living in Vietnam’s Central Highlands are issues.

Converting bauxite to alumina creates red sludge, three tons per ton of alumina produced. Vietnamese bloggers express concern – about the economic and ecological impacts – plus the China factor. “10,000 Chinese settlers are expected in the coming year”, says one opponent – in addition to migration during previous years.

“If you don’t teach them some necessary lessons, it just won’t do”, Deng Xiaoping reportedly said in Washington, in January 1979. I was a child then, but fascinated about news from far away – and it confused me how sympathetic a German editorial I read was to the Chinese invasion of Northern Vietnam. Maybe it was the war that changed China. It certainly was a lesson well-learned and unforgotten by its Southern neighbor. Even the Vietproponents of closer cooperation with China – Chinese investment included – will either think of business or development, but not of an alliance.

If China repeated its aggression of 1979 today, it would do Beijing no good. Dominic Ziegler of The Economist:

The calculus of the Chinese Communist Party is straightforward: unless China secures peace and prosperity around its borders, it cannot secure peaceful development at home. And without such development at home, not only is the legitimacy of the ruling Communists thrown into question, so is the whole notion of China’s rise. This underpins a seachange in China’s attitudes to the region over the past decade. China’s prickly suspicious face is these days rarely seen. Instead, on general view is what might be called China’s “smile diplomacy”. Nowhere are the smiles more evident than in South-East Asia, where China has undertaken not to settle territorial disputes by for e and where free-trade agreements have done much to reassure neighbours that China’s rise does not come at others’ expense.

If sacrificing farming for mining is a great choice for economic development remains to be seen. If it makes sense for Hanoi, they will give the bauxite project the go-ahead, just as they have endorsed other deals with China before. Vietnamese dissidents have mad that a patriotic issue: Thich Quang Do, the leader of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church, claims that Vietnam is “under threat of invasion”. At least in military terms, Ziegler’s list of China’s competitors for regional influence make that look unlikely – as long as Vietnam follows the small-country strategy of playing the big boys off against one another.

India is – semi-officially – ready:

Given its rivalry with China, Vietnam can not become China’s strategic ally. In fact, Vietnam presents the biggest obstacle in China’s southward expansion. In the long term, it is a strategic move for India to develop strong ties with Vietnam.

That’s what All India Radio said in its daily commentary on December 25, 2007 – only hours after Hand in Hand 2007, a joint military exercise between Chinese and Indian troops, had ended in Yunnan Province.

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Related: The Battle of Bạch Đằng River (Wikipedia)

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8 Responses to “Vietnam: “Under Threat of Invasion”?”

  1. Interesting.Personally I don’t think that the Chinese leadership will see that area as being “worth the bones of one of their grenadiers” (as Bismarck said of the Balkans) but future leaders may be less wise or more willing to put on a military show to distract the people back home.

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  2. Agreed. Influence is easier to be gained by economic clout than by military means, under most circumstances. But many Vietnamese – and certain Chinese netizens – probably remember the Chinese invasion itself more vividly than the circumstances under which it happened.

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