It has been reported that Vietnamese anti-China protesters, whose demonstrations have been repeatedly dispersed by police, have found a new outlet for their anger. A football club called "No U FC," with about 100 members, gives them an opportunity to meet regularly and shout political slogans such as "down with Chinese aggression."
Chinese netizens are amused by this new form of political expression. "At least they've accurately found one of China's weak spots: football," one netizen bantered.
Many observers hold that these anti-China protesters are actually venting their discontent with the state, and their accusations go beyond the government's "weak diplomacy" and point to a series of sensitive domestic issues. Nonetheless, it is noticeable that Hanoi's own way of dealing with territorial disputes leaves room for radical emotions to take root among some Vietnamese.
After the large-scale Vietnamese anti-China demonstrations of summer last year, analysts have pointed out that Hanoi should explain to the public that diplomacy is not a black and white thing, and that a balance should be achieved between diplomatic needs and the public's domestic appeals. However, Hanoi has gone too far over the South China Sea issue, and fallen into a vicious circle in handling domestic nationalism.
Over the last couple of years, Vietnam has repeatedly issued provocations over the South China Sea issue, including sending air patrols over China's Nansha Islands and seeking to turn ASEAN into a forum for internationalizing a bilateral issue. Hanoi's hardline stance, combined with the Vietnamese media's instigations, has misled the public into thinking that Vietnam should confront China and offset the giant's advantages with its own strengths.
Hanoi has found itself in the awkward position of having to appease public sentiment while not seriously harming its relationship with China. In early 2011, Vietnam sent a special envoy to China to mend ties and express optimism in solving bilateral issues including the South China Sea dispute. Such efforts were fiercely rebuked as "setback moves" by some Vietnamese and used by some anti-government groups in the anti-China protests.
There have been worries that nationalist emotions can prod authorities into taking a tougher stance in maritime actions and negotiations. Hanoi has to properly handle nationalist emotions at home. If not, the Vietnamese government may find that colossal domestic pressure becomes a more imminent danger than a conflict with China.