For decades, China and Vietnam have clashed over control of parts of South China Sea, which is rich in oil and fish. Earlier this month, China moved an oil drilling rig into waters claimed by Vietnam. The Vietnamese government sent vessels trying to stop Beijing’s deployment. Chinese ships responded by firing water cannons, which sparked protests in Vietnam. Thousands of protestors torched Chinese-owned businesses and factories. On May 18, Vietnamese security forces moved to stop the protests while the Chinese government sent four ships to evacuate Chinese citizens from Vietnam.
Where exactly is Vietnam?
Vietnam is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. The country is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, and the South China Sea to the east. Although roughly the size of New Mexico, Vietnam has a population of over 89 million, about the same as California, New York, and Texas combined. It is the world’s 13th-most-populous country, and the eighth-most-populous Asian country.
What type of government and economy is in place in Vietnam?
After three decades of war, Vietnam was unified in 1975 into a one-party Communist state. Manufacturing, information technology and high-tech industries now form a large and fast-growing part of the national economy. Elements of a market economy and private enterprise were introduced from the late 1980s and a stock exchange opened in 2000, which has helped to drive economic growth. The country is part of the World Trade Organization and the U.S. is it’s main trading partner. Vietnam is currently second biggest supplier of clothes to the U.S.
Why should Christians in the West be concerned about this development?
In their latest report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom noted that Vietnam is a country of particular concern when it comes to religious freedom:
Despite some positive changes over the past decade, the Vietnamese government continues to imprison individuals for religious activity or religious freedom advocacy. It uses a specialized religious police force and vague national security laws to suppress independent Buddhist, Protestant, Hoa Hao, and Cao Dai activities, and seeks to stop the growth of ethnic minority Protestantism and Catholicism via discrimination, violence, and forced renunciations of their faith. In the past year, arrests and confrontations with the Catholic Church have escalated tensions.
Improvements in religious freedom have increased as the country has become more economically free. There is a danger, though, that if Vietnam loses its reputation as a stable and friendly country for foreign investors and tourists, that it could revert back to a more directly communistic economy. The result would likely be even greater losses of economic and religious freedom for the citizens of Vietnam.
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