John J. Xenakis
January 16, 2014

Up until recently, Vietnamese policy was to very carefully avoid offending China, even to the point of using security forces to crush any civilian anti-China protests. However, Vietnam has apparently now completely reversed that policy.

The occasion is the anniversary of a naval clash between South Vietnamese and Chinese naval forces on January 19, 1974. China’s superior naval power crushed the Vietnamese forces, and China seized some of the Paracel Islands controlled by Vietnam and has occupied them ever since.

For forty years, Vietnam has never mentioned the battle for fear of offending China; it’s not even included in modern history books. Now, however, Vietnam’s state media is publicly marking the event and printing numerous articles on the subject, describing how the islands were taken by China by force and the heroic actions of the Vietnamese sailors. Public meetings have been held to commemorate the battle, and there are calls to recognize the “martyrdom” of the fallen soldiers and offer support to their families.

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