Beijing's Dirty Moves

By Tony Le
29 April 2008

For months and months, the Olympic torch relay route showed Paracel Islands enlarged and boxed off on the map as Chinese territories. Vietnamese people all over the world have been protesting this blatant move by China to politicize the Olympics by using it to make illegal claims on territories that it stole from Vietnam. A Vietnamese torch bearer, Le Minh Phieu, even wrote to the IOC President about the matter. No response ever came from the IOC or Beijing in response to these protests.

Finally, right before the final leg of the torch relay was to take place in Saigon on April 29th, suddenly, we notice that on the relay map on the Olympic website, the Paracel Islands have been removed completely. (see ).

The decision by Beijing to remove the Islands from its relay route map may be interpreted in two ways. The first explanation is that Beijing finally gives in to the demands of the Vietnamese people because it understands that it has violated Olympic rules by using the sports festival to make claims on Vietnamese territories.

But we are not too naive to think that Beijing would have a change of heart so easily. The second interpretation is more plausible. Vietnamese who have been calling for protests cite the route map as a primary reason for such an action. Thereforre, if Beijing removes the map, then there would be no reason for protest. This action is meant to neutralize the antagonistic feelings that Vietnamese have towards Beijing and would in effect "pull the rug out from under them".

In addition, Saigon is the last leg of the international part of the relay. All these months, people of the world have already looked at the map and have already seen the islands. They have already been persuaded that these islands legitimately belonged to China. Now that the torch comes to Saigon, the job of the map is essentially done. Removal of the islands does not hurt China in the least.

This is not the first time that Beijing resorts to this kind of cheap conciliatory trick to appease the Vietnamese public opinion. Last year, when hundreds of Vietnamese students protested in front of Chinese missions in Hanoi and Saigon over Beijing's establishment of Sansha to govern the Spratly and Paracel Islands, China chastised Vietnam for allowing such protests to occur. Afterward, a local official in Hainan was quoted in the South China Post as saying that he knew of no plan to establish Sansha. It is amazing how an official could not know of a plan that had been approved by the Chinese central government itself. But this was the kind of trick that Beijing used to quell anger directed to its plans to annex Vietnamese land and waters.

Fortunately, Vietnamese people are not so naive as to fall for such cheap and dirty tricks by Beijing. Removal of the map itself does not mean that China will not continue to find all kinds of means to control Vietnam's Eastern Sea and the islands in it. And this Vietnamese would not be surprised in the least if immediately after the torch leaves Saigon, the relay map returns to the way it was before.


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