HANOI — Thousands of Vietnamese people set fire to foreign-owned factories and went on a rampage in industrial zones in the south of the country in an angry reaction to oil drilling by China in a part of the South China Sea claimed by Vietnam, officials said yesterday.
The unrest at industrial parks in Binh Duong and Dong Nai provinces, near Ho Chi Minh City, was the most serious outbreak of public disorder in the tightly controlled country in years. It points to the dangers for the government as it tries to manage public anger at China, while also itself protesting against Beijing’s actions in the sea.
Some rioters targeted the Vietnam Singapore Industrial Parks I and II (VSIPs) in Binh Duong, prompting the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) to call in Vietnam’s Ambassador to register the Republic’s concern.
“The MFA requests the Vietnamese government to act immediately to restore law and order in the two VSIPs before the security situation worsens and investor confidence is undermined,” said an MFA spokesman in a statement.
The Vietnam Singapore Industrial Park said on its website that it had five locations in Vietnam. The company was established in 1996 as a flagship project of the governments of Vietnam and Singapore.
The Vietnamese government said the protests were initially peaceful on Tuesday but were hijacked by “extremists” who incited people to break into the factories. It said at least 15 factories were set on fire and hundreds more vandalised or looted.
Mr Tran Van Nam, vice-chairman of the Bing Duong government, said disorder broke out when the numbers swelled to about 20,000. Groups of men attacked factories they believed were Chinese-run, but many were actually Taiwanese or South Korean, the Binh Duong provincial government said in a statement.
The police said 440 people were detained for the violence, AP reported.
Mr Nam yesterday said the situation is now under control.
YTN, a South Korean news channel, reported that about 50 Korean companies were attacked by mobs.
Taiwanese-owned athletic shoe manufacturer Yue Yuen, which makes shoes for Nike, adidas and Reebok, said it had closed its three complexes as a precautionary measure.
Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry condemned the rioting. In a statement, it called on the demonstrators not to damage Taiwanese factory equipment or threaten the safety of Taiwanese businesspeople, which could harm Taiwan’s willingness to invest and the long-standing friendly relations between the people of both countries.
China’s Foreign Ministry and its Embassy in Hanoi issued warnings to Chinese citizens and urged the Vietnamese government to protect them. The Embassy’s website said it saw no end to the attacks by what it called anti-China forces and urged its citizens to take safety precautions and avoid unnecessary travel.
Vietnam reacted angrily after China towed a deep-sea oil rig on May 1 close to the Paracel Islands, which are controlled by Beijing but claimed by Hanoi. Vietnam has sent ships to confront the rig, which are engaged in a tense stand-off with Chinese vessels protecting it.
Beijing yesterday accused Hanoi of hyping the issue. “We urge Vietnam to stop all provocative actions, come to their senses and stop all acts intended to create disturbance,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said. She added that China has summoned Vietnam’s Ambassador to protest against the violence.
“I fear a dark chapter in Sino-Vietnamese relations is now being written,” said Mr Ian Storey, a South China Sea expert at Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. “And because China wants to keep that oil rig in place into August, these protests could just be the first pages.”