A number of the state-controlled newspapers and news sites with a lot of followers in Vietnam including Tuoi Tre, Thanh Nien, Tien Phong, VNExpress on January 19 published articles reminiscent of the Hoang Sa naval war that happened 47 years ago.
Meanwhile, the outlets under the government and the Communist Party including the People, the People’s Army, the People’s Police, VOV, and VTV did not speak up about the event, as observed by freelance journalist Chu Vinh Hai, and he told VOA that it is sad.
Paracels in the South China Sea was captured by China from the hands of the Republic of Vietnam (RVN), also known as South Vietnam, in early 1974. The later reunified Vietnam, now officially named the Socialist Republic Vietnam, never renounced its sovereignty over the archipelago, although so far has no controlled an entity there.
Paracels naval war broke out on the morning of January 19, 1974, a few days after the RVN tried to prevent China from sending its troops to occupy some islands.
According to the ARVN naval officers who directly participated in the battle, at 10:25 am that day, four ARVN warships opened fire to attack four Chinese warships.
After about 30 minutes of fierce artillery fighting, all ships of both sides were hit and suffered damage, but one ARVN ship was left behind, the other 3 ARVN ships withdrew. 75 ARVN soldiers died in naval warfare, no data about casualties on the Chinese side.
At 11:10 am on January 19, 1974, the Chinese navy reinforced with two more warships and captured the entire archipelago.
Remind readers of this event, today, January 19, 2021, Tien Phong newspaper of the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth League has published the article “The place of the Hoang Sa war, now: On the Nguyet Them.”
The content of Tien Phong’s article tells about the “silent war” between Vietnamese fishermen versus Chinese warships in the Nguyet Them cluster. The fishermen still often go in and out of this place, sticking to the sea to make a living and paying tribute to the ARVN martyrs, the article said.
Also talking about fishermen who go to the front of the wind-wave to “keep the sea and sky of the country” despite the risk of being chased and attacked by Chinese ships, their lives like hanging on a hair, Thanh Nien newspaper of the League The Union of Vietnamese Youths on the same day published “Hoang Sa far but near: A husband goes to Hoang Sa.”
Talking about another aspect, Tuoi Tre newspaper of Ho Chi Minh City Youth Union published the article “Hoang Sa is forever the flesh and blood of Vietnam: Keeping the sacred souvenirs of Hoang Sa.”
The content of this article talks about the Hoang Sa Gallery in Danang, where images, documents, and exhibits are received and kept, asserting that Vietnam has sovereignty over Paracels and its determination to protect sovereignty.
On the afternoon of January 19, 2021, VNExpress reported in the article “Tribute to Paracels Witnesses” that Mr. Vo Ngoc Dong, director of Danang Department of Home Affairs cum chairman of the People’s Committee of Hoang Sa district, in the morning on the same day, visited witnesses who lived, worked and protected Paracels.
Mr. Dong was quoted by the news site with the most readers on the Internet that his work was aimed at “grateful to our soldiers who protected Paracels and at the same time reminding the young generation not to forget that Hoang Sa is a part of blood and flesh that has not yet returned to the motherland of Vietnam.”
From Vung Tau, Mr. Chu Vinh Hai, a freelance journalist after leaving the state-controlled media, commented to VOA that some newspapers published about the Hoang Sa event while other media did not publish:
“The government outlets such as VOV, Nhan Dan newspaper, People’s Army, People’s Police… have no information about the Hoang Sa naval war event, and it is very sad in the team of journalists in Vietnam. And I think some state-controlled newspapers and outlets reported that they crossed the fence to report on the Hoang Sa naval warfare, but they weren’t given the green light by the party’s Central Commission for Propaganda and Education.
VOA observed that this year many Vietnamese people, including dissidents, only use social media to commemorate the Hoang Sa naval war, do not have activities in public places in the country such as years ago.
On Facebook, female director Song Chi said: “47 years ago Vietnam lost Paracels. And it is likely that Vietnam cannot regain it if the Vietnamese authorities continue to be silent and dare not sue China in the international court.”
Facebooker Phuong Ngo, who often speaks to social criticism, posted a list of 75 ARVN soldiers who died in battle in the Hoang Sa naval war and wrote that “It has been 47 years since China invaded Hoang Sa. We may not know all of our country’s history, but we must always remember: China has never been a friend of Vietnam.”
Activist Nguyen Thuy Hanh wrote on her personal page, “Hoang Sa belongs to Vietnam. The spirit of the heroic immortal heroes!”
Ms. Dao Thu, a university lecturer, said online: “Tribute to the Vietnamese martyrs who fell while protecting Hoang Sa.”
Mr. Chu Vinh Hai explained to VOA why the current situation is like this:
“Since the protest against the special zone law, the cybersecurity law [June 2018], the movement to fight for freedom in Vietnam has been down, possibly due to too much arrest, and then the movement has been divided. But it is clear that the government persecuted too much so the movement went down, or to be exact, it was halted.”
In the context of major media outlets of the Communist Party and the Vietnamese government barely mentioning the Hoang Sa battle, when asked if he was concerned that the young Vietnamese generation would not know or care about the history and sovereignty of Vietnam over Hoang Sa, Mr. Chu Vinh Hai, 57 years old this year, told VOA:
“I am not pessimistic to that level. The Internet has developed, social networks have developed, so many people used to be information blind, now they are enlightened. I think young people are becoming more and more aware of these long blurred truths.”
A few days ago, as VOA reported, a memorial service for Hoang Sa was held by the Vietnamese community in the suburbs of the US capital, Washington on January 10. Although the memorial service took place in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, many people, especially young people, participated in the ceremony.