Dozens of anti-China protesters gathered in downtown Hanoi on Tuesday (January 19) to mark the anniversary of the Battle of the Paracel Islands amid renewed territorial tensions in the South China Sea.
The rally was to pay homage to South Vietnamese soldiers killed by Chinese forces on the islands in the South China Sea in 1974 when China took full control of the Paracels - a cluster of close to 40 islets, outcrops and reefs - after a naval showdown with the then South Vietnam.
There have been incidents near the islands ever since.
Protesters on Tuesday offered flowers and incense to remember those killed. Many held posters reading "the people will never forget" and shouted "down with invasive China" and "Spratly and Paracels belong to Vietnam".
One activist, Nguyen Van Phuong, 29, said he hoped he will one day set foot on the islands.
"We ought to (keep having) this ceremony to pay tribute to the sons who fell for our motherland, that is something we have to do. Secondly, this serves as a wake up call to society because this event has only been happening for the past few years. Before this, the ruling government did not give out information so not many people knew about the Paracel war and the 74 soldiers killed during that war," he said.
A well-known actress in Northern Vietnamese propaganda films during the war was also at the protest. Kim Chi, while gripping a bunch of yellow flowers, said she hoped the current communist government would recognize the sacrifice of the South Vietnamese soldiers as an act of reconciliation and a means to unite people in the wake of the threat from China.
"We are doing this to remind people to always remember to protect our ocean, our islands and our motherland because we have this so-called 'friend' that has a savage aggression plans to invade us and rob us of (our) seas, our skies and our motherland," she said.
On January 3, Vietnam accused China of violating its sovereignty and a recent confidence-building pact by landing a plane on an airstrip Beijing has built on an artificial island in a contested part of the South China Sea.
Vietnam has also accused China of harassing and even opening fire on fishing boats near the Paracels, charges Beijing has either denied or defended as a legitimate means of protecting its sovereignty.
China claims almost all the South China Sea, which is believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas, and through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year, and has been building up facilities on the islands it controls.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan also have rival claims in the South China Sea.