Anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam leave 1 dead, 141 injured

A 1,000-strong mob stormed a Taiwanese steel mill in Vietnam and hunted down Chinese workers, killing one, attacking scores more and then setting the complex alight, Taiwanese and Vietnamese authorities said Thursday, further inflaming tensions between Hanoi and Beijing as they square off against each other in the disputed South China Sea.

It was the first deadly incident in a wave of anti-China protests triggered by Beijing’s deployment of an oil rig in the long-disputed seas on May 1. Vietnam is angrily demanding that China remove the rig and has sent ships to confront it and a flotilla of Chinese escort ships, triggering fears of possible conflict.

Taiwanese companies, many of which employ Chinese nationals, have borne the brunt of the protests and violence, which is posing a challenge to the authoritarian government, which prides itself on maintaining peace and security. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said peaceful protests over the last few days were “legitimate,” but that anyone involved in violence should be punished severely.

Nervous Chinese expatriates were fleeing by land and air. Cambodian immigration police said 600 Chinese crossed into Cambodia over the land border in southern Vietnam on Wednesday, and that others were arriving Thursday.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China was “greatly shocked and concerned.”

“We urge the Vietnamese government to earnestly assume responsibility, get to the bottom of the incident, punish the perpetrators harshly, and pay compensation,” Hua said.

The riot took place at a mill in the Ha Tinh province in central Vietnam, about 350 kilometers (220 miles) south of Hanoi. It followed an anti-China protest by workers at the complex, operated by the conglomerate Formosa Plastics Group, one of the biggest foreign investors in Vietnam, according to Taiwan’s top representative in the country, Huang Chih-peng, and police.

Anti-Chinese sentiment is never far from the surface in Vietnam, but has surged since Beijing deployed the massive deep sea oil rig in disputed waters about 240 kilometers (150 miles) off the Vietnamese coast, close to the Paracel Islands. The government protested the move as a violation of Vietnam’s sovereignty and sent a flotilla of boats, which continue to bump and collide with Chinese vessels guarding the rig. The U.S. has also described China’s actions as “provocative.”

People’s Liberation Army Chief of the General Staff Gen. Fang Fenghui blamed Vietnam for the off-shore standoff, asserting that China was operating in its own territorial waters. He vowed China would continue its oil drilling and would not allow Vietnam to disrupt it.