PROTESTS blocked streets in several major Vietnamese cities on Sunday over plans for new special economic zones, which many fear would be dominated by investment from Chinese firms.
The draft law would allow 99-year concessions to be leased to foreign firms, as part of an initiative to open three new economic zones providing incentives and fewer restrictions announced by Vietnam last May.
About 40-50 protesters gathered at Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem Lake holding placards reading “Protest against the draft law on special economic zones”. The demonstrators carried anti-China banners, including one that said “No leasing land to China even for one day”.
VN Express reported that several people had been arrested for “organising protests illegally” and disrupting security.
Protests went ahead in a number of locations including Hanoi, Binh Thuan and Ho Chi Minh City despite a concession from the communist government, which said Saturday that it would ask parliament to delay approving the law until the end of the year.
— Anh Chí (@AnhChiVN) June 10, 2018
Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc also told local media on Thursday that the government would seek to reduce the period of the leases, but did not say by how much.
“The bill is designed to give a strong boost to the development of three special administrative and economic units, including Van Don in Quang Ninh province, Bac Van Phong in Khanh Hoa province and Phu Quoc in Kien Giang province, and room for institutional experiments,” the government said in a statement.
Public shows of dissent are rare in the one-party state, where a conservative leadership in place since 2016 has taken a more aggressive stance against activists. The protests come at a time of rising tensions over the disputed South China Sea, nearly 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 trillion in trade passes each year.
Additional reporting from Reuters and AFP.