Vietnam commemorates 64 Vietnamese soldiers killed by Chinese forces in 1988

Vietnam commemorates 64 Vietnamese soldiers killed by Chinese forces in 1988

Vietnam, for the first time, officially commemorated the 64 Vietnamese soldiers killed by the Chinese army in 1988 in the Spratly Islands, a sign of a change in its China policy. The country has avoided discussing the battle so that it doesn't irk China, its biggest trading partner.

In March of this year, Hanoi sent a signal to Beijing when it remembered the slain men at a ceremony held in Khanh Hoa province, according to Business Insider.

According to local media reports, Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh laid a wreath, paid floral tributes and burned incense at the Gac Ma memorial site. He also remembered the soldiers who sacrificed their lives to protect their country's sacred sovereignty. A front-line editorial in Nh n D n, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Vietnam, attacked China the next day for the battle.

The Johnson Reef incident happened on March 14, 1988. Two armed Vietnamese transport ships and a landing craft carrying around 100 soldiers sailed with construction materials to Johnson South Reef, Collin Reef and Lansdowne Reef in the contested Spratly Island chain in a bid to secure its territorial claims.

They were met by Chinese forces at Johnson South Reef. A skirmish ensued when China opened fire, killing 64 Vietnamese ships and sinking the ships.

While the recent act of commemoration may not appear remarkable, they are rare and a marked departure from Vietnam's previous actions, wherein it suppressed such citizen-organized memorial events.

For a long time, the battle was not talked about in the public, even in schools. When its subject came up, the state-controlled media often replaced China with foreign forces. Hanoi's previous actions were triggered by the decision to keep anti-China sentiment at bay.

The high-profile event this year suggests that Hanoi, along with Vietnam's recent actions in the South China Sea and its own military investment plans, was sending a message to Beijing.

Military analysts believe that the final act of commemorating the soldiers sent a clear message of maritime sovereignty and self-reliance. Political analyst and prominent Vietnamese blogger Huy Duc posted on Facebook that the prime minister's order is a strategic step towards setting up our 'policy fortress' to defend Vietnam's sovereignty at sea and our islands. Duc was quoted by Radio Free Asia in a report released earlier in the day. No country can pick its neighbors but a dignified nation would never be imprisoned by geography.

Zachary Abuza, a professor at the National War College in Washington, D.C., said the Vietnamese government is trying to signal resolve, especially as the world is preoccupied with the war in Ukraine. President Vladimir Putin's justifications to launch an offensive war on the flimsy basis of having once controlled that territory and historical affinity sets a very dangerous precedent for Chinese aggression in Southeast Asia, in general, and Vietnam, in particular, he told Radio Free Asia.