Vietnam’s state-controlled media on March 13-14 surprised the local public with posting and broadcasting many news and articles commemorating the soldiers who died when defending Gac Ma (South Johnson Reef), an island cluster in the Truong Sa (Spratlys) and naming China as the side launching the bloody attack 33 years ago.
In a series of newly-published reports, the Voice of Vietnam Radio (VOV) reported that on the morning of March 14, 1988, Vietnamese navy soldiers and some transport ships were on duty to protect the country’s building in the Co Lin (Collins Reefs) of Spratlys and they were attacked by heavy Chinese warships.
The unequal clash ended with 64 Vietnamese soldiers dying, Vietnam kept Collins and Len Dao but lost Gac Ma to China which is still under China’s occupation.
VOV emphasized the above event “going into the national history as a mark that never fades in the hearts of every Vietnamese people.”
A series of other press agencies, including Tuoi Tre, Law of Ho Chi Minh City, Nguoi Lao Dong, Tien Phong, VNExpress, etc also repeatedly reported the event and specifically stated that on the morning of March 14, 1988, the Chinese troops fired artillery shells on the island, at Vietnamese engineer ships and naval ships to forcibly capture Gac Ma.
In addition to articles reminding about the clash, Vietnam’s state-controlled media also reported on official memorial activities at the Gac Ma soldier memorial area located in Cam Lam district, Khanh Hoa province.
The domestic public expressed a positive attitude on social media about the publication and dissemination of articles by the state-controlled media about the massacre of Gac Ma and naming China as an invader, a significant change compared to previous years.
Attorney Ha Huy Son commented on Facebook that “this year looks different from last years” and added that “acknowledging a step of progress.”
Journalist-poet Luu Trong Van described that March 14 “can be said to be the day when the Council of Minds and Consensus of the state-controlled media and people’s media” had “overflowing news, articles, photos, and clips on the day when the Chinese communists forcibly occupied Gac Ma.
Also expressing his views via Facebook, freelance journalist Nguyen Dinh Am said he welcomed Vietnam’s leadership this year “allowing the state-controlled media to tell the truth” about the Gac Ma incident.
However, Mr. Am added that when some activists in Hanoi commemorated the event, they were still disrupted by state security and mobs.
Social progress activists Truong Van Dung and La Viet Dung confirmed to VOA that they and nine other activists arrived at King Ly Thai To’s Monument next to Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, on the morning of March 14 to burn incense, arrange flowers to commemorate martyrs of Gac Ma massacre.
There, they were provoked and disrupted by mobs from the government-supported group called VietVision. Those people do not state security personnel, said La Viet Dung.
Mr. Truong Van Dung informed VOA that the activists were not guarded by the state security or blocked from leaving their homes as in previous years and that the memorial service of more than 10 activists took place successfully.
Commenting on the widespread state-controlled media coverage as well as naming China that massacred Vietnamese soldiers and occupied Gac Ma, Mr. Truong Van Dung said:
“It can be seen clearly that they are more open. I don’t know about their attitude but perhaps there has been direction from senior leaders. Compared to previous years, their perception is now better.”
According to VOA’s observation, in previous years, only a few state newspapers issued articles mentioning the Gac Ma massacre and commemorating killed soldiers and often did not name China as the perpetrators.
Mr. La Viet Dung commented on the change this year:
“I am amazed at how open they are. The state-controlled media, including television channels, talked a lot about Gac Ma. Maybe the two communist parties of Vietnam and China have a problem. When they get along, Vietnam often talks little or defeats, or blocks political dissidents from commemorating our fighters.”
In an article posted on his personal Facebook page, Mr. Luu Trong Van stated that the Vietnamese state media was strongly talking about the Gac Ma massacre “definitely has a green light” of the Central Committee on Propaganda and Education of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam.
Still, Mr. Van deduces that this has to do with the role of Lieutenant General Nguyen Trong Nghia, the new head of the Central Committee on Propaganda and Education, who started holding the post less than a month ago.
Some others also commented that there was a change in the reporting of Gac Ma due to an army general taking over the Central Committee on Propaganda and Education.
Activist Truong Van Dung agrees with this view. He told VOA:
“Yes, clearly they have a change from the Central Committee on Propaganda and Education. Everyone’s comments are also reasonable. However, it should also be remembered that they are in the same party, so this change may not be just about propaganda but a whole system.”
Meanwhile, activist La Viet Dung has different thoughts. He said:
“I don’t think that’s the case. Perhaps there was a problem in relations with China, but an army general could not decide. Usually, they have to meet quite carefully in the Politburo. Previously, the two communist parties agreed not to mention the past. So, I think the recent media developments have been caused by problems in the two-party relationship.”
La Viet Dung and Truong Van Dung added that the government’s use of public trollers to disrupt memorial activities of the activists for social progress shows that the state still wants to monopolize the truth and does not want people to have spontaneous activities.