HANOI: Mobs burned and looted scores of foreign-owned factories in Vietnam following a large protest by workers against China’s recent placement of an oil rig in disputed Southeast Asian waters, officials said Wednesday.
The unrest at industrial parks near Ho Chi Minh City is the most serious outbreak of public disorder in years. It points to the dangers for the government as it tries to manage public anger at China while also itself protesting the Chinese actions in an area of the South China Sea claimed by Vietnam.
Vietnam has sent ships to confront the rig which are engaged in a tense standoff with Chinese vessels protecting it.
The rioting Tuesday into Wednesday in Binh Duong province followed protests by up to 20,000 workers at the industrial parks. Smaller groups of men attacked factories they believed were Chinese-run, but many were Taiwanese or South Korean, the provincial government said.
On Wednesday morning, groups of men on motorbikes remained on the streets and factories in the area were closed, said a park manager who declined to give his name due to the sensitivity of the situation. Riot police were stationed around the area but men were still seen carrying looted goods, said a security guard, who also declined to be identified.
Firefighters battled to extinguish a fire at Tan Than Industries, a Taiwanese bicycle factory, where walls were toppled in the riots. Smoke poured out of blackened windows at other factories, as people waved Vietnamese flags while riding motorcycles through the streets.
Police said 440 people had been detained. Tran Van Nam, vice chairman of the Bing Duong government, said Chinese, Taiwanese and South Korean factories that hadn’t already shut down had been asked to do so temporarily for the sake of public order. He said the “situation was now under control.”
Vietnam reacted angrily after China towed a deep-sea oil rig on May 1 close to the Paracel Islands, which are controlled by China but claimed by Hanoi. It sent a flotilla of vessels to try to disrupt the oil rig. Some of the Vietnamese boats clashed with Chinese ships sent to protect the rig, raising fears of a possible conflict.
China has shown no signs of backing down, and accused Vietnam Wednesday of “hyping” the issue.