In recent weeks, ahead of the July 12 ruling by The Hague over Beijing’s claims to the South China, incidents of bad behavior by Chinese tourists in Vietnam have widely circulated on social media and been reported on by Vietnamese news media.
In response, Vietnamese authorities are initiating several campaigns in the hope bad behavior can be stemmed without threatening its thriving tourism sector. Vietnam benefited from some 1.78 million Chinese tourists last year, with some 1.2 million Chinese nationals having visited in the first six months of this year, although the amount of revenue Chinese tourists contribute to Vietnam’s economy has recently been questioned.
When visiting Vietnam, Chinese tourists are issued a separate visa on arrival and their passports are not stamped—given China’s nine-dash line is printed in each Chinese passport. Manila has long avoided stamping Chinese passports that include the controversial nine-dash line, which outlines Beijing’s claims to some 90 percent of the South China Sea.
The good behavior campaign kicked off this month with the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism requesting Chinese officials to strictly deal with misbehaving Chinese tourists in Vietnam. Chinese tourists are already under the watchful eye of Beijing, after Chinese authorities issued a set of guidelines in 2013 for their nationals when traveling overseas. Beijing also published an etiquette guide for tourists, and Chinese can be placed on a “blacklist” for committing violations and banned from traveling abroad for a lengthy period—anywhere between two and 10 years. The blacklist includes the nine deadly sins of:
Tourism authorities in Da Nang started last year using a similar approach, issuing more than 5,000 free leaflets on good behavior (in English, Mandarin and Vietnamese) to tourists. Vietnamese tourism authorities also released a video in Mandarin, using cartoons in an effort to reach out and encourage proper behavior among Chinese visitors.
Vietnamese authorities are also cracking down on illegal Chinese tour guides and tourism companies, many of which have been found to be working without licenses and distorting historical facts. In Nha Trang, a popular beach destination for Chinese tourists, 64 Chinese nationals were caught working illegally for a travel agency and will be soon be deported. According to Vietnamese law, foreigners are not allowed to work as tour guides. Authorities in Da Nang, another popular destination, believe there are as many as 60 Chinese working in the tourism industry, with some distorting historical facts over claims to the South China Sea (East Sea).
While the ruling against China coming out of The Hague was limited to Beijing’s claims to maritime territory in the South China Sea, the ruling will likewise have ongoing ramifications for relations between China and the other claimant nations. Nationalists in countries like Vietnam or the Philippines may use the favorable ruling as their justification for discriminating against Chinese visitors, and authorities will have to ensure fair treatment for all nationalities. Likewise, nationalists in China may use the unfavorable ruling to lash out against the Philippines or Washington (thought by some to have pushed Manila to file the case) by attacking U.S. business interests.
Nationalist sentiment and patriotic fervor are running high following The Hague’s ruling against China, and the leadership of the claimant countries of the South China Sea must seek to reduce tensions lest their citizens turn on their own governments over failure to act tough with China.