YVONNE EPPS WRITES — It’s a new year and with Tet rounding the final corner, Vietnam can finally turn over a new leaf. Or it can indulge in more media constriction, give or take.

This week marked the 40th anniversary of China’s invasion of Vietnam and its taking of the Paracel Islands. And Vietnam’s state-controlled venues aren’t hesitant to report on the party’s response, but people continue to be silenced. VietnamNews and VietnamNet Bridge report that Foreign Ministry spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi protests China’s control of the East Sea and demands more meaningful contributions towards peace and stability. China currently holds the East Sea with an iron fist, violating Vietnam’s sovereignty of the region under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC). But, the government isn’t the only one upset about China’s death grip.

Local anti-China activists gathered in Hanoi, calling for the Paracel and Spratlys Islands to be returned to Vietnam, but news of their protest emerged only through venues outside the country. The South China Morning Post reported that citizens commemorated the more than 70 soldiers that died during the invasion. They even held protests, which were disbanded by authorities.

Although the government references the anniversary as an opportunity to zero in on the party’s contributions, it remains hush-hush on what citizens say regarding the matter. While this historical event could be used to unify the government and popular sentiments, surprise surprise, it’s the party that perpetuates the disconnect.

Though this was the first big protest of 2014 in Vietnam, the new year hasn’t quite started with a bang, at least not yet. Will China’s iron fist corrode and rust with these continued demands? What we do know is that Vietnam’s timidity and media constriction won’t help reclaim its slice of the East Sea.