HCMC Dining Guide

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

China, you've been warned

Something one learns quickly if they follow diplomatic relationships in Asia is that China doesn't get along very well with most of its neighbors. Japan and South Korea hold ancient grudges against the Middle Kingdom, and down here in Southeast Asia resentment may even be worse.

Vietnam in particular has a mutually antagonistic relationship with the behemoth to the north, even though the national economy relies heavily on trade with China. Vietnamese suspicion of Chinese intentions dates back centuries, but the root of the current tension is a bunch of tiny, mostly uninhabitable islands in the South China Sea. (Or the East Sea, as it's known in Vietnam.)

The Spratly and Paracel Islands, as these archipelagos are called in English, lie roughly between Vietnam and the Philippines. It is suspected that massive oil and natural gas reserves may lie below the seabed around these islands, and as a result they are of interest to every country in the area with a coastline. China has decided that, since it has over 1 billion people, a million man army and the world's second-biggest economy it can simply lay claim to the entirety of both chains, even though the southernmost islands are thousands of miles from the mainland. This has annoyed everyone else in the region, and Vietnam has taken special offense to it, as they claim large swathes of this area as well.
Really, China. Nothing about this looks ridiculous?
Last year there were numerous encounters between Chinese and Vietnamese vessels and rhetoric between the two governments got rather heated at times. It appears that this year will see more of the same, as last week China arrested 21 Vietnamese fisherman for "violating national sovereignty" by working in the Paracels. Hanoi's reaction was livid, and the outcome of the situation is still in the balance.

It should come as no surprise then that the Vietnamese media has recently begun a campaign of blatant chest-thumping nationalism. Four stories from Tuoi Tre Newspaper (full disclosure: I work for them, and they do actually do some really good work) within the last few weeks illustrate exactly what I'm talking about.

First, we have an article describing "How special the Special force is", in which we learn that "These front line soldiers are 1.68-1.75 meters tall, with exceptional agility, bravery, and skill". They can also "shoot three bullets with a convergence degree within a 5cm radius at a distance of 200 meters." There's even a picture of a dude getting a stack of bricks smashed over his chest:
In short, these guys will fuck you up.

In the next piece we move to the sea, namely the members of the ultra-elite Naval Battalion 126. These guys are insane: "They can run continuously for 48 kilometers. They possess swift combat skills like a falcon; they climb vertical walls of several meters, climb water pipes and operate on the roof without a sound." The training they undergo sounds absolutely brutal, as they get one hour of sleep a night for four months, and if anyone has to go to the hospital he is kicked out of the unit. At one point trainees were given a one-day supply of rice and alcohol and told to survive for 14. You do not want to mess with these guys.

The last two articles take us to the skies over Vietnam. First we learn about the pilots who fly the EC-225, a big, fancy French chopper that has all kinds of modern avionic controls and technology.
This clearly isn't an attack helicopter, but it can carry 19 soldiers into battle, and the learning process for the pilots is intense. For example, "the most complicated situation presented by the training plan is the one in which the craft loses its lifting power while hovering at a height of over 40 meters, and descends on a 15 degree incline until gaining the necessary speed to take off again." That just sounds awful. The pilots of these beasts are the best of the best: they spent 18 months studying English before going to France for training. I know who I would want on my side.

Finally, we learn about the Air Force squadron that pilots Vietnam's fleet of Russian-built Su-30MK2 fighter jets; known as the 'Air Cobra'.
These state-of-the-art planes are among the most capable in the world, and are probably the pride of the Vietnamese military. There is no questioning that it can do almost anything: It is designed for "long-range air-to-surface and ground-attack missions...It is also built to gain air superiority through killing hostile manned and unmanned aircrafts with guided missiles in medium-range engagements and dogfights. It can detect, track and destroy surface, ground and sea targets with all types of weapons..." Impressive, indeed. (I should note that, while it can sometimes be easy to mock Vietnamese news articles, these were actually quite interesting, and provided a look into a subject that has almost no transparency here.)

It is blindingly obvious who these stories are directed towards: A) The Vietnamese people, so that they can be proud of their armed forces, and B) China. Last year China unveiled its first aircraft carrier (actually a refurbished Ukrainian one, but still) and the prototype of a stealth fighter jet. These weapons systems worry many in the U.S., but in reality it is far more likely that they will be used against one of China's smaller neighbors. Vietnam is serving notice that it will not be pushed around by bullies, although all they really have to do to get that message through is remind people what they did to France and America last century. The country is obviously prepared to defend its interests in the Spratlys and the Paracels. Will any of these elite unites be called into action in the next few years? Only time will tell...


  1. You can't write about this subject without linking to the map the BBC use in any article about this subject. China's claimed territory: http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/media/images/48951000/gif/_48951920_south_china-sea_1_466.gif

    Seeing it on a map just makes you realise how ridiculous their claims actually are.

  2. Yep, you're right - great link.

    In other news, look at this crazy high-tech simulator that Vietnam's sailors train in!:

  3. That training is insane. Wonder where they.got their training manual.from