Chinese Worker Killed in Vietnam Protest

Vietnamese officials say one Chinese worker was killed after an anti-China protest turned violent at a steel factory in Vietnam. Tensions between the two countries see no sign of abating. 

Nguyen Quang Hoan, an official in central Vietnam's Ha Tinh province, where the unrest took place, told VOA's Vietnamese Service that thousands of Vietnamese participated in a peaceful anti-China protest that turned ugly in the end.

"Officially, one person died and 149 people were injured. We have arrested 76 people involved and will prosecute these people who took advantage of the situation to undermine the operation of businesses in the area," Hoan said.

A mob of around 1,000 people attacked Chinese workers at a Taiwanese-owned steel factory in central Vietnam, and officials said the fatality was the first reported as anti-China sentiment swept across Vietnam following China's deployment of an oil rig in waters both countries claim.

Hoan said authorities would do everything they can to prevent future incidents that have an impact on the investment environment.

On Thursday, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said anti-China protests to express patriotism are 'legitimate.' But he said those who violate laws and destroy foreign businesses would be 'strictly dealt with.'

The factory attack followed protests involving up to 20,000 people in Binh Duong province, near southern Ho Chi Minh City.

Protesters have targeted Taiwanese factories believing they were mainland Chinese facilities. Taiwan is planning to provide charter flights to bring its citizens home according to officials in Taipei.

Reports abound on social media of further protests in provinces across the country, but so far they are described as peaceful.

At a news conference in Hanoi Thursday, government spokesman Le Hai Binh blamed the protests on "bad elements." 

He said the government and the majority of Vietnamese people condemn such violence.

Officials in Cambodia say hundreds of Chinese nationals have arrived there from Vietnam. Spokesman Binh said he did not have information on this, but added that order has been restored and Vietnam would "take every measure necessary to ensure security and safety of the lives and property of foreign companies, including Chinese companies."

Local media report that Vietnam's prime minister has ordered government ministries to protect foreign investors and strictly punish those who have incited riots.

The prime minister's statement is significant, but Professor Jonathan London, of City University of Hong Kong, says, "One might worry whether it is sufficient, and it certainly comes rather late."

"So you have coverage of the dispute on the high seas, and reports of the violence, but you don't have any reportage of what this means, what are Vietnamese authorities saying about this. What are we to make of these events? So what the result is -- a very disjointed flow of information that does not contribute to a stable political environment." 

Although state media covered Tuesday's riots in Binh Duong province, the vast majority of information sharing has been via social media and blogs. 

"I think leaving the public discourse up to cyberspace, with zero meaningful communication between the state and society. is ill advised. It’s strange because historically the state’s approach to these sorts of matters has been highly scripted guidance for what people should think and do -- you know, 'the party line,'" said London.

China is VIetnam's biggest trading partner, and many fear escalating tensions could damage the economy.

China's foreign ministry had few details Thursday about the damage to Chinese businesses or how many Chinese citizens in Vietnam are affected. Authorities say Chinese diplomats are still traveling to affected areas to assess the situation. In Beijing, spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Vietnam has been urged to reduce tensions and restore order.

She says, "The series of damaging looting-and-burning activities against Chinese companies in Vietnam has everything to do with connivance with anti-China forces." The spokeswoman did not identify fully the "anti-China forces."

State television in China was surprisingly quiet on the situation Thursday. Stories on Chinese websites talked about the number of rioters Vietnamese authorities had taken into custody and warnings from authorities about traveling to Vietnam, but there was less discussion of the anti-Chinese furor in Vietnam over the oil rig.

Some shared photos of damaged businesses appeared on the Weibo site, but authorities were censoring many posts quickly.

Observers say since both Vietnam and China show no signs of backing down, it remains unclear how they will reduce tensions.

VOA News / May 16, 2014 07:56 KST