HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Vietnamese protesters marched through the capital's streets for a fourth straight week, calling for China to stop entering Vietnamese waters in the South China Sea as tensions between the neighbors continue to flare.
Carrying signs that read: "China stop lying. China stop invading" and "Stop violating the territorial waters of Vietnam" the crowd swelled to about 100 as it snaked through the capital's humid streets.
Protests are extremely rare in communist Vietnam and are typically quashed quickly by security forces. Still, Hanoi has allowed the demonstrations to go on for the past four Sundays amid tight security.
China and Vietnam have traded diplomatic jabs over the past month after clashes in parts of the South China Sea claimed by both countries.
"The tensions in the East Sea may escalate, but if other countries join together, the Chinese may have to back down," said Phung Thi Tram, 70, referring to the area by its Vietnamese name. She yelled "Down With China!" as she marched.
Relations have also soured recently between Beijing and the Philippines, with Manila accusing Chinese boats of making nine intrusions into Philippine-claimed waters since Feb. 25.
Vietnam accuses Chinese vessels of hindering oil exploration surveys in an area 200 nautical miles off its central coast that it claims as its economic exclusive zone. China says Vietnam illegally entered its waters near the disputed Spratly islands and endangered Chinese fishermen.
The two sides have a long history of maritime scrapes, mainly involving areas around the believed resource-rich Spratly and Paracel islands, which are claimed all or in part by Vietnam, China and several other Asian countries. But the current spat has become much more hostile, with both sides announcing live-fire naval drills were recently held.
The United States has said that the South China Sea, home to key shipping lanes, is in its national interest. Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the U.S. would honor its mutual defense treaty with its ally, the Philippines. She also said Washington was willing to support a collaborative, diplomatic process by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which has attempted to frame a code of conduct with China.
Beijing has said all territorial disputes should be settled one-on-one with its Asian neighbors and that the United States should not be involved.