Allen R. Carlson, associate professor of government at Cornell University and an expert on Southeast Asia politics and international relations, says that the anti-China riots in Vietnam may stir headlines today, but could have a calming effect on the Vietnam-China dispute over a resource-rich area of the South China Sea.

Carlson says:

“The recent anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam were catalyzed by China's recent attempts to secure territory in the South China Sea that is claimed by both Beijing and Hanoi. Such a development represents a new chapter in the longstanding Sino-Vietnamese dispute over this maritime region.

“Despite media reports of the rioting, its significance should not be overstated. For example, some have suggested that it may create a pretext for Beijing to carry out a Russian-style annexation of the region. Such speculation is far-fetched and misguided.

“Rather than revealing Chinese strengths or an agenda for territorial aggrandizement, the riots indicate how cautious China may need to be in pressing its position on ownership of these ocean waters. While Beijing governs only the People's Republic of China, it is increasingly seen by many of its citizens as being responsible for the safety and well-being of overseas Chinese as well. China’s diasporic population is spread throughout Southeast Asia and China is ill-equipped to provide such assistance.

“When such a population is placed at risk, as seems to be the case in Vietnam today, China's leaders are left looking weak and ineffectual. This was evident in 1997 when anti-Chinese rioting in Indonesia erupted, and Beijing could do little to nothing to stop it.

“While it should be expected that China will loudly denounce the Vietnamese actions, over the longer term the riots will more likely lead to a cooling down of overt engagements at sea, rather than to an escalation of the conflict.”

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