In Vietnam, anti-Chinese protesters find a new outlet: soccer

Sun Dec 23, 2012 3:12pm EST
 
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By Jason Szep

HANOI (Reuters) - Under the watch of plainclothes police, midfielder Nguyen Van Phuong unleashed a powerful left-foot drive into the top corner. Dissidents cheered from the sidelines. "Down with China," some shouted. Phuong pumped his fist.

As tensions between Beijing and Hanoi escalate over the South China Sea, Vietnamese anti-China protesters who face repeated police crackdowns are finding a new form of political expression: soccer.

"People don't feel scared playing soccer," said Phuong, the team captain, after a practice match in the capital, Hanoi.

They call themselves "No U FC" -- a reference to the U-shaped line China has drawn around almost the entire South China Sea, passing close to Vietnam, then around Malaysia and north to the Philippines, an area where potential oil deposits, strategic shipping routes and fishing rights converge in one of Asia's most combustible territorial disputes.

"FC" stands for Football Club. Or, as some players say, "Fuck China".

The team illustrates mounting resentment of China whose sovereignty claims over the stretch of water off its south coast and to the east of mainland Southeast Asia set it directly against U.S. allies Vietnam and the Philippines, while Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia also lay claim to parts.

The club was formed after police arrested dozens of anti-China protesters who had gathered peacefully almost every weekend from June to August last year. They were at first tolerated in the tightly controlled Communist country where public dissent is rare. But the authorities feared they could evolve into a wider, harder-to-control anti-government movement, said several diplomats with high-level government contacts.

Some of those arrested were accused of turning against the state. Among the protesters were intellectuals and bloggers whose anger extended well beyond Beijing to sensitive domestic issues — from a widening rich-poor divide to land evictions, police brutality and restrictions on freedom of expression.   Continued...

 
Nguyen Van Phuong (C), captain and midfielder of "No U FC", a soccer team made up of Vietnamese anti-China protesters, controls the ball during a soccer match at a stadium in Hanoi December 23, 2012. As tensions between Beijing and Hanoi escalate over the South China Sea, Vietnamese anti-China protesters who face repeated police crackdowns are finding a new form of political expression: soccer. REUTERS/Stringer