The Wall Street Journal reported on 1 May (James Hookway, “Once Enemies, Vietnam Now Fights for China Funds”) that a controversy had erupted over the plan for a state company to create a $460 million venture with the Aluminium Corporation of China to extract bauxite in the Central Highlands. 97-year-old General Vo Nguyen Giap, a hero of the French and American wars, has “written open letters to the government warning of growing Chinese influence” and environmental damage, a point also made by a “chorus” of scientists and economists who question the project’s feasibility. “In comparison, there has been little outcry against a unit of U.S.-based Alcoa Inc., which is conducting a feasibility study for a possible alumina refinery in southern Vietnam.”
The Central Highlands is, of course, not only an area of relatively untouched nature but also one where the “Montagnard” ethnic groups, with their often conflictual relationship with the central government, are located. In this regard, the story is very similar to the Lao and Cambodian cases, but in a very different political environment — one where there is political alliance but also a strong sense of opposition to China (and the Chinese), both among the elite and the population, but where the state is governed to a way very similar to China’s.