YVONNE EPPS WRITES — Tensions over the South China Sea reached its peak last week, but this kerfuffle between China and Vietnam is quite different than the tug of war over the Parcel Islands earlier this year. Everyone wants a piece of this pie, but who loses in the end?

Anti-China riots erupted in Vietnam last week in response to China firing water cannons at Vietnamese vessels. The ships in question were trying to stop Beijing’s deployment of an oil drilling rig into its territory, as reported by Vietnam News. The riots initially consisted of peaceful protests that escalated into the torching of several Chinese businesses, prompting China to send four boats to evacuate their citizens.

China’s bullying behavior shines in the media, where the Global Times taunted Hanoi’s response and suggested China give it “a lesson it deserves to get” according to the South China Morning Post. While they are wrong to control the seas like they’re pirate kings, protests only occur when they support the agenda of the party in Vietnam. Violent exchanges don’t apply in such a benign situation of territorial intrusion, meaning the lives of Chinese nationals were needlessly endangered.

The aftermath saw interesting developments that may foreshadow future conflicts, but there is still an internal media problem that isn’t addressed. According to Philstar, the Philippines and Vietnam have reached an agreement to oppose China’s intrusions in the South China Sea. While the two aren’t the only nations who want a piece of the pie, their cooperation will fuel their aggression against China in the future. That isn’t to say that China will stop using force, in which it can only be stopped by creating a system that punishes irresponsible acts according to Professor Narushige Michishita’s interview with Radio Voice of Vietnam.

But, the problem isn’t just external. Among protestors there was a clear divide between those who actively criticize the government through the media and those who rioted just to riot, as pointed out by The Straits Times. Authorities selectively allowing these protests shows how controlled the voices of the people are. When the citizens all shout anti-China slogans but are never allowed to even spit the party’s name under threat of Article 258, we realize that this is one bitter pie that no one gets a bite of.

We have the instigator China and its South China Sea combatants of Vietnam and the Philippines, but the real loser here are the citizens. The tension that quickly transforms into violence affects innocent people first and foremost, not the people pressing the buttons behind the black screen.