Two Vietnamese craft beers named after disputed islands in the South China Sea. Photo: Michael Tatarski
A brewery in Vietnam has waded into one of the most contentious maritime disputes in the world by naming craft beers after islands claimed by China in a hops-flavored act of patriotism guaranteed to irritate Beijing.
While several countries in Asia lay claim to various remote shoals, reefs and outcrops in the resource-rich South China Sea, Vietnam and China’s competing claims over the Spratly and Paracel Islands may be the most heated, leading to clashes in 1988 and perennial diplomatic tensions since.
Vietnam calls the South China Sea the East Sea and refers to the disputed island clusters as Truong Sa and Hoang Sa. China includes the archipelagos among many others in its heavily contested nine-dash line map, despite them being much closer to Vietnam’s actual borders, a fact pointed out by other claimants in Southeast Asia.
Seefahrer Premium Beer in Ho Chi Minh City has now entered these troubled waters with their Hoang Sa golden ale and Truong Sa Trappist ale craft beers. The former features a warrior sailing to Hoang Sa under orders of the Nguyen Dynasty in the 17th Century. An official dispatch written in the Vietnamese language’s old script can be seen as well.
The Truong Sa label, meanwhile, depicts a modern Vietnamese Navy sailor and a marker proclaiming Vietnam’s sovereignty over the archipelago.
If the designs appear to be overly patriotic, that’s exactly the point.
“We made these two beers because we have patriotism and a love of the islands and the country,” Huynh Dang Tri, marketing executive at Seefahrer, told VICE World News. “Hoang Sa and Truong Sa belong to Vietnam.”
Customers in Vietnam, where Beijing’s actions are viewed with widespread suspicion and where flare-ups in the South China Sea are a source of rare protest in the one-party state, have already started quenching their thirst with the patriotic pints.
Local sales are reportedly robust, and Seefahrer is already aiming to export Hoang Sa and Truong Sa bottles internationally.
According to a manager at a craft beer distributor in Ho Chi Minh City, cases of the beers have been moving like nothing he has previously seen.
“We sold 12 cases just last weekend, and usually customers buy a variety of many beers, while these were new customers buying just Seefahrer,” he said. “No other brewery has generated anywhere close to that interest, and in fact we’ve now sold out.”
All of the large orders came from Vietnamese customers, as people prepare for company and family parties ahead of the upcoming Tet, or Lunar New Year, holiday.
“We’ve gotten orders from all over the country and people are crazy about the stuff,” the manager added. “The weird thing is that I usually discount cases by 15 percent, and I haven’t done that yet for this and people are still going for it.”
Seefahrer’s Tri, for his part, is not surprised: “Vietnamese people will definitely buy these beers because they love our country. Our land must belong to us.”
This isn’t the first time that claims in the South China Sea have cropped up in unexpected places.
In 2019, for example, the Vietnamese government pulled ‘Abominable,’ a Dreamworks animated movie, from theaters because one scene featured a map in the background that showed the controversial nine-dash line.
On the other hand, maps of Vietnam that are posted or published without including the island chains can cause problems, such as when the US Embassy in Hanoi posted a map of just the country’s mainland on its Facebook page in September 2020.
But never before has craft beer been so entwined with the long-running fight.
On Seefahrer’s Facebook page, which curiously features a US Navy aircraft carrier and three American sailors as their banner image, there are dozens of comments from people across Vietnam asking where they can buy bottles.
A post from the brewery warns that supplies are low due to high demand, while another proclaims what may very well become a new holiday adage: “There is nothing more precious in this Tet season than drinking beer while showing patriotism.”