Lecture2Go Videokatalog F.5 - Geisteswissenschaften Asien-Afrika-Institut The South China Sea Conflict after the Arbitration of July 12, 2016: Analyses and Perspectives


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Contested Memories - Sino-Vietnamese Relations and the South China Sea in Vietnamese Commemoration

In this paper I will argue that against the backdrop of a more aggressive stance of the People’s Republic
of China in the South China Sea the representation of the Vietnamese-Chinese past, especially of the
Chinese invasion of the northern provinces of Vietnam in 1979 and other military skirmishes between
the two countries in 1974 and 1988 has become a contested issue in Vietnam.
I will show that while before the collapse of socialism China was commonly depicted as an “aggressive”
and “expansionist” power in Vietnamese history textbooks and school books, after the normalization
relations with Beijing in 1990 military skirmishes with China at the border and in the South China Sea
have been played down.
However, against the backdrop of assertive Chinese actions in the South China Sea in the last few years,
to emphasize friendly ties with the northern neighbor and to maintain silence about the war in 1979 and
military disputes about the Paracel and Spratley Islands in official representation has become more and
more difficult in Vietnam.
First, I discuss how in the last few years Vietnamese historians and the Vietnamese public have
increasingly called for an overhaul of Vietnamese textbooks: they demand that new history textbooks
should provide detailed accounts on all military conflicts with China and present them as “just wars”
against a foreign aggressor.
Secondly, I argue that the commemoration of Vietnamese soldiers who died during military disputes
China since 1974 has been stepped up – mainly due to initiatives of “agents of remembrance”, but also
due to an increased coverage in Vietnamese newspapers. This also applies to soldiers who died during
the Johnson South Reef Skirmish in the Spratley Islands in 1988 and even soldiers of the former
Republic of Vietnam who sacrificed their lives in the naval battle of the Paracel Islands in 1974.

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