Several thousand Vietnamese protesting Beijing’s decision to deploy an oil rig into disputed waters off the coast of Vietnam in the South China Sea directed their anger towards Chinese-owned factories Tuesday, vandalizing some of them, state media and witnesses said.
Tuesday’s protests hit four industrial parks that house Chinese and other foreign-owned businesses in Binh Duong province. There were also street demonstrations in Ho Chi Minh City, the commercial capital.
The attack on Chinese factories marked an escalation of public demonstrations that began at the weekend and during which state media said thousands chanted anti-China slogans outside Beijing’s diplomatic missions in the capital Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
Experts said the street protests calling on Beijing to withdraw the giant rig positioned near the disputed Paracel Islands had been a calculated move by Hanoi to voice its displeasure with Beijing.
The May 1 rig deployment also saw patrol vessels from the two countries converging in the disputed area, resulting in collisions and escalation of tensions.
A witness to Tuesday’s protests in Binh Duong told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that they had taken on a decidedly more violent nature than those on Sunday, and were targeting Chinese investment.
“I saw about 1,000 workers carrying flags and tree branches to show their patriotism,” said the witness, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“Some young people were very angry and could not control themselves. They broke glass windows and [held] posters, and shouted,” he said.
“They went from one factory to another. They went to Chinese-owned factories, but they did not have any plan. They took strong action whenever they saw Chinese flags.”
Agence France-Presse quoted local policeman Ho Quang Thanh as saying that the protest had been triggered by the deployment of the oil rig, which Vietnam said was a “serious violation.”
Vietnam’s Ministry of Information had posted photos on its official website showing what appeared to be extensive damage to a Taiwanese factory that was apparently mistaken for a Chinese-owned plant, AFP said.
The Associated Press quoted a factory executive as saying that four parks were targeted by protesters between Monday night and Tuesday.
The executive said police were present but the protests were continuing.
He said that some factories which refused to stop work were targeted by vandals.
Patrol vessels from the two nations have repeatedly jousted in the area, resulting in collisions and the use of water cannons, and Beijing recently dispatched fighter jets to join its ships in guarding the rig, operated by state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC).
In a clear reflection of Hanoi's anger over Beijing's move, state media had extensively reported the weekend’s noisy anti-Chinese protests which police made no move to break up.
Dozens of anti-China rallies have been held in Vietnam since 2007 against Beijing’s perceived aggression in the South China Seas.
Vietnam's authoritarian leaders usually keep a very tight grip on public gatherings for fear they could snowball into protests against the Communist leadership.
Beijing’s decision to deploy an oil rig to the Paracels is seen as one of its boldest moves yet in a bid to secure its claims in the South China Sea, which are also claimed in part by the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei, and believed to sit atop substantial oil and gas deposits.
In addition to criticism from Southeast Asian leaders during a summit in Myanmar over the weekend, the action has also raised concerns in Washington, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry calling it “provocative” in a phone call with his Chinese counterpart Foreign Minister Wang Yi late on Monday.
Kerry “urged both sides to de-escalate tensions, ensure safe conduct by their vessels at sea, and resolve the dispute through peaceful means in accordance with international law,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.
Wang urged Kerry to be “objective,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a daily press briefing, Reuters reported.
In an editorial on Tuesday, the state-run China Daily said that challengers to Beijing's territorial claims should be made to pay an “unaffordable price,” accusing Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines of ratcheting up tensions in the region, encouraged by “malicious third parties.”
Reported by Kinh Hoa for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.