Workers say no to Vietnam’s ‘Special Exploitation Zones’

« Workers say no to Vietnam’s ‘Special Exploitation Zones’ » by Angie Ngoc Tran, 18/07/2018, New Mandala

On Sunday, 10 June 2018, thousands of people took to the streets in major Vietnamese cities—Nha Trang, Binh Thuan, Hanoi, and Ho Chi Minh City, among others. Academics, independent journalists, and overseas Vietnamese signed petitions to join in their protest against the Draft Law on the 99-year lease of the three Special Administrative and Economic coastal zones in Vietnam. Workers, too, went on strike in two industrial zones in Long An and Tien Giang provinces. These collective actions led to a concession from the government: it would delay the National Assembly’s ratification of the Draft Law to its next meeting.

Why now, given that the idea of these three special economic zones was “old news”, having been announced in May 2017? It turns out that lack of transparency about the details of the Draft Law—made available only before a vote in the June 2018 session of the National Assembly—had triggered these massive protests.

Only once the details became clear did protests begin in earnest. The protesters pointed to the risks of losing national sovereignty to China, alleged to be the key beneficiary of the Special Administrative and Economic zones scheme. While China is not mentioned in the 53-page Draft Law, the geopolitics of these three zones, spread from north to south, suggests otherwise: Vân Đồn (Quang Ninh province, bordering China), Bắc Vân Phong (Khanh Hoa province, ashore of the South China Sea), and Phú Quốc island (Kien Giang province, near the Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone in Cambodia, dominated by Chinese–Cambodian investment). Visas are to be waived for “citizens of the neighbouring country [China] sharing the border with Vietnam in Quang Ninh” (Article 55, Section 4), and for “citizens of the neighbouring country [Cambodia] sharing the border with Vietnam in Kien Giang province” (Article 57, Section 3). Who else would stand to benefit the most from both economic and administrative control over land, air, and sea lanes from these three zones?

Indeed, why introduce more economic zones when Vietnam already has 18 economic zones, offering tax breaks and low rents, and which still have open spaces for foreign investors? A careful review of the text of this Draft Law reveals many ambiguities and raises grave concerns for the wellbeing of the Vietnamese workers and the environment for them, their families, and society at large.

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