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Violence Subsides in Vietnam After Anti-China Rioting

  • VOA News

The situation in Vietnam has calmed down following several days of violent protests against China's decision to put an oil rig in disputed waters of the South China Sea.

In a text message sent Friday to millions of cell phone users, Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung warned protesters to act within the law while staging demonstrations. The message quotes him as saying, "bad elements should not be allowed to instigate extremist actions that harm the interests and image of the country."

Rioting across the country this week left at least one Chinese worker dead and 149 others injured. Dozens of factories were targeted in the rampage, including many that belong to Taiwanese and Korean businesses. State run media reports say hundreds have been arrested in connection with the violence.

A White House spokesman Friday called China's decision to put an oil rig in the disputed waters "provocative." Jay Carney said China's action undermines stability in the region.

Chinese and Vietnamese ships have been locked in a standoff since China deployed an oil rig last month in a part of the South China Sea that Vietnam claims is within its exclusive economic zone. The two sides have attacked each other with water cannons, raising fears of an armed military clash.

State-run media in China and Vietnam say the foreign ministers of both countries talked about the situation by phone late Thursday. Beijing says Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi condemned the recent violence while Hanoi says Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh demanded the oil rig be removed.

Ernest Bower, Senior Adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told VOA's Vietnamese service that he thinks Hanoi had no recourse but to publicize its dispute with China.

"Most of China's neighbors have been trying to keep this aggressive push by China under wraps and not report everything in the press. But I think Vietnam does feel that at this point they've got to share with the world what the ramifications of China's actions are," said Bower.

Joshua Kurlantzick of Council on Foreign Relations said he thinks Vietnam made a calculated decision to allow protests, but that the situation quickly spun out of control.

“I think it is true that they’re probably feeling increasingly helpless in the dispute with China. [But] I doubt that Vietnamese government wanted this to happen because any unrest makes them uncomfortable," said Kurlantzick.

Bower agreed, saying the government in Hanoi understands that the violence plays into China's objectives.

"I do not believe the Vietnamese government in any way had a role in promoting those protests. In fact, I think the protests worry them because the Vietnamese government understands that part of the Chinese tactic [of] pulling the oil rig Haiyan 981 onto the Vietnamese continental shelf was to provoke the Vietnamese into making mistakes," said Bower.

Tuong Vu, a professor East and Southeast Asian studies at the University of Oregon, said is not clear if the protests and Vietnamese public opinion will help or hurt Hanoi in negotiations with Beijing.

“They used these popular protests to bolster their position in their talks with Chinese leaders, and try to convince them to take the oil rig out of Vietnam’s waters. We need to know how effective such an action might be before we can say whether Vietnam is naive or not. They’re probably naive because these protests has gone beyond what is permitted, causing Chinese economic damage and death," said Tuong.

But Kurlantzick said sentiment among Vietnam's citizens will not have any impact on China's decisions. “Public indignation in Vietnam is not going to make an impact on China. First of all, I don’t think China is scaling back their operations, what would make them scale back operations is probably not public opinion of Vietnam. I don’t know what would, but there are other things that I could think of that would be higher on the list."

During a trip to Asia last month, U.S. President Barack Obama reassured U.S. allies in the region that Washington stands by its commitments to help defend them. China says the message is encouraging Vietnam and others to confront Beijing.

Meanwhile, More than 100 Filipinos and Vietnamese residents in the Philippines staged a joint protest in Manila Friday against China's incursions into territories claimed by their countries. Manila is protesting Chinese land reclamation on a reef that it says is Philippine territory.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.

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