Official Name: Socialist Republic of Vietnam
Capital: (Current local time)
Government Type: Communist state
Chief of State: President Nguyen Minh Triet, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung
Population: 85,262,356
Area: 329,560 sq km
Languages: Vietnamese, English, French, Chinese, Khmer mountain area languages (Mon-Khmer and Malayo-Polynesian)
Literacy: Total Population: 90.3% Male: 93.9%; Female: 86.9%
GDP Per Capita: $3,100
Year of Independence: 2 September 1945
==

A Deepening Partnership With Vietnam

Two decades after normalizing relations with Vietnam, the United States is seeking to forge even closer ties as the two countries face a common challenge in China. To that end, the Obama administration recently eased a longtime ban on providing lethal weapons to Vietnam and approved the sale of technology for a civilian nuclear energy program. Both initiatives should be carried out with great care so as to ensure regional stability.
Private companies eager to invest in Vietnam have been the main drivers of a better relationship. Trade and investment exploded after the United States lifted its economic embargo in 1994. In 2011, President Obama announced plans to give Asia greater emphasis in his foreign policy — a rebalancing aimed at strengthening ties with countries that, like the United States, are wary about an increasingly aggressive China.
Vietnam and the United States still have divergent political systems — Vietnam is run by a Communist Party and has a dismal human rights record. Yet they share interests in preventing the use of force in maritime disputes, ensuring freedom of navigation and expanding trade. In 2013, Mr. Obama and President Truong Tan Sang of Vietnam agreed on a “comprehensive partnership” that pledged cooperation on a range of issues, including defense and energy.
China is Vietnam’s top trading partner, and Vietnam has tried hard not to provoke it. But China’s decision in May to position a massive oil rig in an area of the South China Sea claimed by Vietnam caught Hanoi off guard and exposed its vulnerability. One result is the Obama administration’s move to partly lift the ban on transfers of lethal arms, a term that embraces a broad array of military items but in this case refers to fairly modest defense systems.
The transfers should be limited to such systems and approved case by case. Vietnam has little ability now to do surveillance. Some American officials want to offer P-3 surveillance planes; a wiser course would be to start by providing less sophisticated and less threatening items like patrol boats — unarmed, but capable of carrying guns at some future point — for Vietnam’s coast guard. Caution is justified because Asia is awash in new weapons and America needs to consider how arming its partners will affect regional tensions. China tends to interpret America’s increased engagement as a threat.
Caution is also justified because of Vietnam’s poor human rights record; the government is still jailing political prisoners and crushing dissent. America cannot be so eager for partnership that it transfers weapons without calibrating such decisions based on how Vietnam treats its own people.
The other initiative is the civilian nuclear energy deal, signed in May. It allows American companies to apply for licenses to export nuclear research and equipment to Vietnam, whose ambition is to become the first Southeast Asian nation to operate a nuclear power plant. Vietnam’s hope is that nuclear power will provide up to 30 percent of its energy needs by 2050. Vietnam has a law on the books forbidding the development of nuclear weapons. Even so, as part of the civilian energy deal, the administration should have insisted that Vietnam promise not to enrich and reprocess nuclear material, which could be used to make bomb-grade fuel.
Vietnam has emerged as a major player in America’s plans to build a regional counterweight to China, despite the trauma of the Vietnam War. Though Vietnam’s repressive system is a brake on the partnership, officials are optimistic that a younger generation of Vietnamese will come to see that a freer society is necessary and can only enhance their country’s standing in the world. In the meantime, it is in America’s interests to engage Vietnam whenever it can.

U.S. Eases Embargo on Arms to Vietnam

Photo

Pham Binh Minh, Vietnam’s foreign minister, met with U.S. officials in Washington on Thursday. Credit Mandel Ngan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
WASHINGTON — The United States on Thursday partially lifted its longtime ban on the provision of lethal arms to Vietnam, a move that is intended to help Hanoi strengthen its maritime security as it contends with a more assertive China.
The policy shift was announced as Vietnam’s foreign minister, Pham Binh Minh, met here with Susan E. Rice, the national security adviser, and Secretary of State John Kerry.
The State Department emphasized that the policy change applied only to maritime surveillance and “security-related” systems and asserted that the decision reflected modest improvements in Vietnam’s human rights record.
Human rights groups sharply criticized the decision. “Vietnam has hardly earned this reward,” said John Sifton, the Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. “Vietnam’s record on political prisoners is bad and getting worse.”
As the United States’ concerns have grown over China’s increasing military abilities, American officials have gradually moved to strengthen security ties with the Vietnamese. Hanoi, whose forces clashed with China in 1979, has been increasingly worried about Beijing’s military posture in the region and has urged that the ban on lethal arms sales be rescinded.
Vietnam’s anxieties were aggravated in May when a Chinese oil rig was temporarily deployed in the South China Sea off the Paracel Islands, which are claimed by both China and Vietnam.
The United States decided to allow the sale of some nonlethal equipment to Vietnam in 2007. Last December, on a visit to Vietnam, Mr. Kerry announced that Washington would provide $18 million in assistance, including five unarmed patrol boats for the Vietnamese Coast Guard.
The latest shift in United States policy, which comes nearly four decades after the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, is aimed at further strengthening Vietnam’s Coast Guard and would open the door for Vietnam to acquire armed boats or even surveillance planes from the United States.
Some leading lawmakers have supported the move. Last month, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, introduced a resolution that called for easing the ban on the sale of lethal arms “for maritime and coastal defense.”
The measure was also backed by Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, who has long been a champion of human rights. But the resolution also emphasized that a broader lifting of the prohibition on lethal arms would require Vietnam to take significant steps to improve human rights, “including releases of prisoners of conscience and legal reforms.”
The State Department’s annual report on human rights for 2013 said that Vietnam had continued to impose “severe government restrictions on citizens’ political rights, particularly their right to change their government,” among other abuses.
Obama administration officials have argued that Vietnam’s desire for expanded trade, interest in closer relations with Washington and internal pressures at home may lead to an improved human rights record. By allowing the transfer of lethal maritime equipment, they say, the United States, without forfeiting its leverage, has rewarded Vietnam for taking steps like the signing of an international convention against torture, the release of a few political prisoners and a start at reform of its criminal code.
In a statement on Thursday, the White House said that in her meeting with Mr. Minh, Ms. Rice had highlighted the United States’ desire to deepen military cooperation while stressing the importance of “continued progress” on human rights.
But Mr. Sifton argued that the administration’s strategy would backfire by encouraging Vietnam to draw the conclusion that the United States would continue to seek better ties regardless of whether fundamental human rights reforms were made. And he predicted the decision on Thursday would face significant opposition in Congress.
“It would be a mistake to say that Congress has signed off on this,” he said. “Lots of members of Congress did not know this was cooking.”

In China’s Shadow, U.S. Courts Old Foe Vietnam

Photo

Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, center, reviewed a Vietnamese honor guard in Hanoi on Thursday. Credit Kham/Reuters
HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, courted Vietnam over the past several days. He was the first chairman in more than 40 years to visit the old enemy of Washington, now envisioned as a new partner that will acquire American weapons and help offset the power of China.
General Dempsey, who graduated from West Point as the Vietnam War was winding down, never served here, but his visit capped a vibrant effort by the United States and Vietnam to reconnect. A longstanding embargo on lethal weapons sales by the United States is likely to be eased, he said, and Washington would then begin discussions on what equipment Vietnam would buy, most likely in the field of maritime surveillance.
Vietnam has suddenly become more important to Washington as the United States and China are increasingly at loggerheads over the South China Sea, one of the world’s most vital trading routes. Vietnam is crucial because of its strategic position bordering China, its large population of nearly 100 million and its long coastline on that sea.
“We do think we should have a steady improvement in our relationship with the Vietnamese military,” General Dempsey told reporters here on Saturday. “I would suggest as goes Vietnam in managing its maritime resources and territorial disputes, so goes the South China Sea.”
During his three-day visit, General Dempsey met in Hanoi with Vietnam’s most senior officer, Gen. Do Ba Ty, who last year traveled to Washington, where he was entertained at the chairman’s home. General Dempsey visited Vietnamese vessels and met with their crew in Da Nang, once the site of a major American military base. He also inspected an American thermal treatment plant in Da Nang designed to clean up a deadly ingredient in Agent Orange, the defoliant sprayed by the American military over South Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, visited Hanoi this month and said the time had come to modify the arms embargo so the United States could help Vietnam with defense abilities.
In May, China deployed a sophisticated deep-sea oil rig to disputed waters off the Vietnam coast, a move that resulted in anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam and two months of skirmishes at sea between well-equipped Chinese Coast Guard boats and more rudimentary Vietnamese vessels.
While moving closer to Washington, Vietnam, which is ruled by a Communist Party that still values its fraternal relations with Beijing and is locked into economic dependence on China, has indicated it is not about to ditch its powerful northern neighbor.
The United States is not trying to force Vietnam to choose between Beijing and Washington, General Dempsey said. “I didn’t come here to focus on China,” he said. “But I recognize inevitably the shadow of China hangs over these conversations.”
In China, the government is watching the American dalliance with Vietnam, and it sees the likely easing of the arms embargo as a move against Beijing in the contest over the South China Sea, said Wu Xinbo, the head of the American Studies Center at Fudan University in Shanghai.
“The United States is trying to encourage Vietnam to take a tough stance against China on the South China Sea,” he said. “I believe Washington is somewhat concerned about the possible reconciliation between China and Vietnam over the South China Sea dispute.”
Who was the more ardent suitor in the wooing between the two former enemies remained an open question. Vietnam was insisting on its own gradual pace of improvement in military relations with the United States, American officials said.
Washington could end up disappointed, said Brantly Womack, a professor of foreign affairs at the University of Virginia, who has written extensively about the two countries. Vietnam, Professor Womack said, is acutely aware of the prickly path over the nearly 20 years since normalization of relations with Washington. “They want to tie us in closer, but they don’t want to hang on the string,” he said.
Vietnam now buys most of its weapons, including a recent order for six Kilo-class submarines, from Russia. Japan agreed last month to send Vietnam six new Coast Guard vessels.
There will be no change in Vietnam’s restriction of only one port visit a year by American naval ships to Vietnam, American officials said. And the possibility of the United States’ having access to Cam Ranh Bay, a strategically significant deepwater port used by the United States during the Vietnam War, is not on the table. Even so, the signs are propitious for a diplomatic tilt toward the United States.
A coalition of 10 Vietnamese labor and religious groups presented a letter to Senator McCain during his visit, indicating that they could support a gradual lifting of the arms embargo, if the government released all prisoners of conscience and repealed vague security laws.
Initial shipments of American weapons could include surveillance vessels without guns or sophisticated radar, with more advanced weapons slowly phased in as Vietnam improved its human rights record, said Nguyen Quang A, a member of the coalition and a prominent intellectual.
Vietnam has a history, he said, of creating military alliances “not against a third country but for protecting our sovereignty.”
The American assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, Tom P. Malinowski, said Vietnam had taken “positive steps” on human rights in the past six months that would be factored into the final decision on easing the weapons ban.
Vietnam has released seven prominent prisoners of conscience, registered 113 church congregations and signed the convention against torture, Mr. Malinowski said. Still, the United States wants it to release all prisoners of conscience, including prominent bloggers and writers given lengthy prison sentences last year.
Vietnam’s leadership faced an unusual call for more political openness this month when 61 members of the Communist Party signed a public letter that took aim at the relationship with China. The government should take legal action against China in the international court system for its deployment of the oil rig, the signatories suggested.
“When over 60 members of the Communist Party of Vietnam have signed an open letter calling for leaders to ‘develop a truly democratic, law-abiding state,’ it is time to invite Vietnam to free itself of dependence on Russia and China and to encourage further reform,” said Vikram J. Singh, a former United States deputy assistant secretary of defense for South and Southeast Asia who is now vice president for national security at the Center for American Progress in Washington. “This is about dignity and pride, and being treated on par with other countries in the region.”
Correction: August 25, 2014
An article on Aug. 17 about efforts by Vietnam and the United States to enhance relations, something that would probably include a lifting of Washington’s ban on the sale of lethal weapons to Hanoi, misstated, in some editions, the position of the labor and religious groups that presented a letter to Senator John McCain, who recently visited the country with other American officials. The letter indicated that the groups could support the gradual lifting of the arms embargo if the government released prisoners of conscience and repealed vague security laws; it did not say that they supported lifting the ban.

A View From the Sea, as China Flexes Muscle

Photo

Fishermen in Da Nang. On a two-day trip from that port, a Vietnamese vessel encountered some 70 Chinese ships. Credit Gilles Sabrie for The New York Times
ABOARD CSB-8003, in the South China Sea — As the large white Chinese ship closed in, the smaller Vietnamese Coast Guard vessel could only veer off, black exhaust billowing from its stack. The Vietnamese vessel had advanced to within 13 miles of the Chinese offshore oil rig, and the Chinese decided it could come no closer.
With the rig barely visible on the horizon but the Chinese ship looming close behind, the Vietnamese patrol boat, CSB-8003, blasted a two-minute recorded message in Chinese, from loudspeakers on the back of the boat. These waters belong to Vietnam, the message said, and China’s placement of the rig had “hurt the feelings of the Vietnamese people.”
About six hours after the encounter on July 15, one of the last in a two-and-a-half-month standoff over the rig known as HD 981, China began moving the rig north toward the Chinese island of Hainan and out of waters Vietnam considers its exclusive economic zone. Three weeks later, analysts are still debating whether China, facing international pressure, blinked in its standoff with Vietnam — or whether this was just a tactical retreat before a more aggressive campaign.
Photo

Vietnamese and Chinese vessels near a Chinese oil rig. Credit Gilles Sabrie for The New York Times
While Vietnam claimed success in forcing the departure of HD 981, China National Petroleum Corporation, which managed the project, said the rig had completed its exploration work and was moving as planned.
The relocation of the rig just ahead of the approach of a typhoon in the area also prompted speculation that the storm may have forced its early departure. But the $1 billion rig, which is owned by the state-run China National Offshore Oil Corporation, was moved to a spot about 60 miles southeast of Hainan Island that is also exposed to typhoons.
While the Vietnamese Coast Guard celebrated the departure of the Chinese rig, some officers said they were worried that the episode represented a more aggressive attitude by China.
“From the moment that they installed the rig near the islands, the Chinese began more and more and more attacks, in words and in actions,” said Lt. Col. Tran Van Tho of the Vietnam Coast Guard as he stood smoking a cigarette on the deck of CSB-8003. “Why? It is a part of a Chinese strategy to control the sea. This is a first step to try to make a new base to expand farther south. This not only threatens Vietnam, but the Philippines and other countries. This has been organized systematically, as part of a strategy. It is not random.”
Lyle J. Goldstein, an associate professor at the United States Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute, said that China has long taken an assertive stance toward its claims in the South China Sea, but was now much more able to uphold them.
“If anything is changing it is that China has capabilities to enforce and explore more carefully and it has money to field the cutters — that to me is what is driving the situation,” he said.
Vietnam invited groups of foreign reporters to embed with its Coast Guard vessels in an effort to focus international attention on the standoff over the rig. On the water with CSB-8003, the superior numbers of the Chinese vessels were clear.
On its two-day trip from Da Nang in central Vietnam, CSB-8003 encountered some 70 Chinese vessels, including fishing boats, Coast Guard cutters, patrol ships from other Chinese maritime organizations and two vessels that the Vietnamese Coast Guard identified as Chinese Navy missile corvettes.
Vietnam says there were about four to six Chinese military vessels among the more than 100 Chinese ships that patrolled around the rig, along with the Chinese Coast Guard, other maritime agencies and dozens of fishing boats.
As recently as two years ago, many observers said China’s policy in the South China Sea was dominated by an array of poorly coordinated agencies.
Some encounters showed organizational ability, as when Chinese ships harassed the Impeccable, a United States Navy surveillance ship, in the South China Sea in 2009. But many analysts argued that the Chinese Navy, China Marine Surveillance, the Bureau of Fisheries Administration, local governments and state-owned energy companies operated with high levels of autonomy and fueled regional tensions as they sought to increase their own influence and opportunities.
Continue reading the main story

Map: Territorial Disputes in the Waters Near China

The standoff over the rig shows how things have changed. “The idea that China lacks a coherent policy, that’s clearly not the case with this oil rig,” said Ian Storey, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. “It shows a high degree of interagency coordination involving civilian maritime agencies, the People’s Liberation Army and the oil companies.”
Efforts to streamline China’s maritime law enforcement agencies saw significant advancement last year when four of them were joined under the State Oceanic Administration to form a unified Coast Guard.
The placement of the rig indicates the will of China’s leadership to push maritime claims, Mr. Storey said. “Clearly this was sanctioned at the highest level of the Chinese government,” he said. “This is another indication of how Xi Jinping has very quickly consolidated his power in China and is calling the shots.”
Chinese energy companies backed away from plans to explore for oil and gas in the South China Sea after Vietnamese protests in 1994 and 2009. Now it is not so hesitant. HD 981 should be seen as a starting point for future exploration, said Su Xiaohui, a researcher at the China Institute of International Studies, a research institute run by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “China is sending out a signal to the related countries that it is legal and natural for China to conduct energy exploration and development in the South China Sea,” said Ms. Su.
The Chinese placement of the rig caught Vietnam off guard, and set off protests and riots targeting Chinese-owned factories in Vietnam. Factories owned by Taiwanese, Japanese, South Korean and Singaporean firms were also hit. Four Chinese workers at the Taiwanese-owned Formosa Plastics steel plant were killed by rioters in May.
The rig was first parked about 120 miles off the coast of Vietnam and 17 miles from the farthest southwest islet of the Paracels, islands held by China but claimed by Vietnam.
Both sides have exchanged accusations over who had been the aggressor in the standoff over the rig. In June, China said that over the first month of operations, Vietnamese ships had rammed Chinese ships 1,400 times. But Vietnam appears to have suffered the worst of the skirmishes at sea, with more than 30 of its vessels damaged in collisions during that same period.
The most severe clash was on May 26, when a Vietnamese fishing boat sank after a collision with a Chinese fishing boat. Video later released by Vietnam showed the much larger Chinese boat ramming the wooden-hulled Vietnamese vessel.
The movement of the rig to waters farther north will help defuse the conflict between Vietnam and China. But the broader issues over sovereignty in the South China Sea, and who has the rights to extract oil and gas in the region, remain far from resolved.
At talks among senior diplomats from the Asia-Pacific region on Saturday in Myanmar, Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated a suggestion by the United States that countries in the region refrain from taking steps that would further heighten tensions in the South China Sea. “We need to work together to manage tensions in the South China Sea, and to manage them peacefully, and also to manage them on a basis of international law,” Mr. Kerry said at the regional forum of Asean, the Association of Southeast Asian nations.
China said it would consider proposals to resolve disputes, but said that China and Asean “had the ability and wisdom to jointly protect peace and stability in the South China Sea,” China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, said, according to a statement posted on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. The statement did not mention the United States, but in the past China has criticized Washington for getting involved in its maritime disputes with other countries. In addition to China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines also claim parts of the South China Sea.
China announced last month that it would place four more rigs in the South China Sea, and Vietnam’s inability to block HD 981 will likely give China confidence about its ability to drill in contested locations. “I think China feels it got its point across,” said Bernard D. Cole, a retired United States Navy officer and a professor at the National War College. “I would not at all be surprised to see them do it again.”

China Tensions Choke Off Tourism to Vietnam

Continue reading the main story Slide Show

Slide Show|11 Photos

Vietnam Awaits Return of Chinese Tourists

Vietnam Awaits Return of Chinese Tourists

CreditAaron Joel Santos for The New York Times
DA NANG, Vietnam — The year began well for Mai Thanh Trung, newly employed at a travel company here that caters to Chinese tour groups. Mr. Trung said he regularly greeted charter flights from the Chinese mainland and pocketed an average monthly commission of about $600.
But then came May, when a state-owned Chinese company parked an oil rig near Vietnam’s central coast in a part of the South China Sea that both countries claim. Two days of anti-Chinese riots followed in southern and central Vietnam. And, according to hospitality professionals in this central coast city of nearly one million, the inbound Chinese tourism market crashed.
Mr. Trung, 24, said the flights that once brought his Chinese clients stopped in late May, leaving him and his 50 colleagues temporarily unemployed. He sat idle for weeks in his home village, 25 miles south of Da Nang, watching the World Cup on television.
The rig began moving north, toward Hainan Island in China, on July 15. Mr. Trung said that seemed to have prompted a trickle of Chinese tourists to return, and that he expected to make at least $200 this month in commissions. But the unrest over the rig and continuing tense relations have rattled his sense of job security.
Continue reading the main story

Map: Territorial Disputes in the Waters Near China

“Right now it’s going back to Hainan Island, but we don’t know when it will come back,” he said of the rig.
Although at least four Chinese workers died in the riots, order was restored quickly. But China and other countries issued advisories citing potential risks to public safety in Vietnam. Tourism specialists said the Chinese advisory led thousands of people to cancel trips, in part because it invalidated some travel insurance policies.
Chinese accounted for about a quarter of the nearly 4.3 million foreign visitors to Vietnam in the first six months of 2014. But in June, arrivals from the Chinese mainland fell about 30 percent and those from Hong Kong fell 72 percent, compared with May.
“They became a little bit afraid,” said Matthias Wiesmann, general manager at the Furama Resort Danang, one of the city’s many beachfront properties. The hotel lost 10 percent to 15 percent of its business, or about 2,800 room nights, in May and June, he said.
Nguyen Xuan Binh, director of the government’s Da Nang Center for Tourism Promotion, said the average occupancy rate at the city’s beachfront hotels was 60 percent to 70 percent in late June, compared with the usual 80 percent to 90 percent. But Ken Atkinson, chairman of the tourism working group at the Vietnam Business Forum, a public-private consortium, suggested that rate was probably not higher than 30 percent or 40 percent.
Mr. Binh says Da Nang is as safe as ever. He predicted that Chinese tourists would return but said that he did not know when.
“They’ll come to Da Nang and see the reality,” he said.
Chinese tourists spent $102 billion on 83 million international trips in 2012, lifting their country above Germany as the world’s top source of international tourism, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization.
But tourists from China are often acutely sensitive to the way they and their government are perceived abroad, while Chinese officials view tourism as closely linked to larger diplomatic strategies, tourism specialists said in interviews.
In Japan, Chinese arrivals plunged in late 2012 and much of 2013, according to Japan National Tourism Organization figures provided by the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute in Heide, Germany. The slump appeared to mirror a period of rising tensions between China and Japan over disputed islands in the East China Sea, said the institute’s director, Wolfgang Georg Arlt.
And in Malaysia, 19.5 percent fewer Chinese tourists arrived in April than in April 2013, according to government data. By contrast, the number fell 0.10 percent in March and 3.6 percent in February and increased nearly 25 percent in January from a year earlier.
Brian King, a professor of tourism at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said several Chinese airlines had scaled back flights to Malaysia after the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 on March 8, two-thirds of whose passengers were Chinese. Also, a Chinese tourist was abducted from a resort in Malaysia in April.
“Malaysia’s plans for growing China tourism are well off course at the moment,” Mr. King said. “Until there’s more information about the flight, then that probably will continue to be the case.”
He added that the Malaysia Airlines flight shot down over Ukraine would probably have a “very minor” effect on tourism in Asia and that the disaster could actually increase Malaysia’s inbound Chinese tourism if the airline continued to cut fares to attract customers.
Mr. Binh, the Da Nang tourism official, said growth in the city’s inbound Chinese tourism market before May was mainly related to a sharp rise since 2012 in charter flights operated by Vietnam Airlines, China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines. He said Dragonair, a sister airline of Cathay Pacific, had also opened non-charter flights between Hong Kong and Da Nang.
A spokeswoman for the state-owned Vietnam Airlines declined to comment on the Chinese tourism slump, saying in an email that the company was still “collecting and evaluating” related information. China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines did not respond to email seeking comment.
Cathay Pacific and Dragonair canceled a total of 23 return flights between Hong Kong and three regular Vietnam destinations — Da Nang, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City — between late May and the end of June, said Erica Peng, Cathay Pacific’s Vietnam country manager. She added that the airlines normally operated 33 weekly flights from Hong Kong to those cities, including seven Dragonair flights to Da Nang.
Mr. Binh, the tourism official, said the “main driver” behind the Da Nang charter flights from China was the Crowne Plaza Danang, a large hotel on the city’s beachfront. Four hospitality executives on the central coast echoed his analysis, saying the Crowne Plaza caters almost exclusively to Chinese tour groups.
On a recent summer afternoon, Zhang Lei, a Chinese businessman from Henan Province, stood beside the pool in the Crowne Plaza’s deserted beachside courtyard. He said that aside from the friends he was traveling with, he had not met any other Chinese-speaking guests during his stay and that many Chinese were not traveling to Vietnam because of the South China Sea dispute and the factory riots in May.
“China has helped Vietnam so much over the years, but the Vietnamese have turned against us,” Mr. Zhang said while sipping from a coconut.
A Crowne Plaza employee, who declined to give his name because he was not authorized to speak with the news media, said Chinese typically were 70 percent to 80 percent of the hotel’s clientele. Emma Corcoran, a spokeswoman for the hotel’s parent company, InterContinental Hotels Group, declined a request for an interview with the hotel’s general manager.
Clarence Tan, the company’s chief operating officer for Southeast Asia and resorts, said in an emailed statement that China’s recent tourism advisory from the Chinese government, coupled with the reduction in direct chartered flights into Da Nang, had contributed to a decline in Chinese arrivals at the company’s Da Nang properties.
Despite the drop in Chinese arrivals, Vietnam still expects to welcome 8.2 million international tourists this year, Nguyen Manh Cuong, vice chairman of the national tourism agency, told reporters on July 9, days before the Chinese oil rig left the disputed area of the South China Sea. The total for last year was nearly 7.6 million, official figures show.
The rig’s departure appears to have increased overall tourist confidence in Vietnam, said Mr. Wiesmann, of the Furama Resort Danang. He added that business at the beachfront property had nearly returned to normal by late July, because of upticks in Australian, Japanese, South Korean and Vietnamese guests.
Mr. Wiesmann said inbound Chinese tourism, though still sluggish, was improving “little by little,” though it remained unclear when, or whether, the market would recover fully.
“It’s a little bit difficult to predict,” he said.

Chinese Oil Rig Near Vietnam to Be Moved

Photo

Chinese ships guard the HD 981 in the South China Sea on Tuesday. Credit Martin Petty/Reuters
BEIJING — A Chinese energy company announced Wednesday that a giant oil rig that was deployed in disputed waters off the coast of Vietnam two months ago had completed its exploration work and would be moved.
The China National Petroleum Corporation, a state-owned company, said the billion-dollar rig, known as HD 981, would be relocated to an area around the Qiongdongnan basin, closer to Hainan Island, a southern province of China, and apparently in undisputed waters.
The arrival of the rig off the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea in early May worsened China’s relations with Vietnam, a neighbor, and became a sticking point in the increasing tensions between Beijing and Washington.
The announcement, released by Xinhua, the state-run news agency, came a day after President Obama called President Xi Jinping to talk about what the White House called the “important progress” at meetings between the two countries in Beijing last week, although they did not settle any differences.
There was no indication that the movement of the rig away from the disputed waters with Vietnam was related to the telephone call.
Continue reading the main story

Map: Territorial Disputes in the Waters Near China

When the rig was first deployed close to the Paracels, claimed by both China and Vietnam, Chinese officials said it would remain in place until mid-August, the normal start of the typhoon season.
There was no explanation why the rig was leaving earlier, but the statement by the China National Petroleum Corporation said the operation was ending as planned. During exploration, the rig found “signs of oil and gas,” and the company planned to assess the data and decide on its next steps, the statement said.
The arrival of the rig — more than 40 stories tall and the size of a football field — prompted daily clashes at sea between Chinese vessels sent to protect it and Vietnamese boats that tried to pierce the perimeter of about 12 miles the Chinese had established around it.
Chinese Coast Guard vessels rammed smaller Vietnamese boats, and the Chinese used powerful water cannons to keep the Vietnamese vessels at bay.
Both sides also stationed naval vessels in the distance, and Chinese fighter jets flew over the rig from time to time. In Vietnam, anti-Chinese protests turned violent as two Chinese workers were killed and factories run by Taiwanese and South Korean companies were destroyed.
China’s Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that the movement of the rig should not be seen as a retreat, emphasizing the position that the Paracel Islands were China’s territory and that the rig was operating in “undisputed coastal waters” of the islands.
China, though, could be moving the oil rig to ease relations with Vietnam, said Bonnie Glaser, a senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “It could be a face-saving way to end the over two-month-long standoff with Vietnam,” she said.
The Voice of Vietnam, a state-run news agency, said Wednesday that Vietnamese law enforcement officials saw the rig moving away from its position on Tuesday evening. The agency added that the move may have occurred because of the approaching Typhoon Rammasun.
But an influential Vietnamese military official, Maj. Gen. Le Ma Luong, said the Chinese were backing down and were moving the rig because of the “strong reactions”of Vietnam.  In an interview in PetroTimes, a Vietnamese state-run news outlet, the general said the typhoon was “just an excuse.”