Protests against China’s deployment of an oil rig in waters claimed by Vietnam were shut down by police on Sunday. The move follows a week of demonstrations, with some turning violent.
There was a heavy police presence outside the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi Sunday morning, with a park used by protesters last week fenced off.
The few demonstrators who turned up were quickly surrounded by police, who tried to prevent them from speaking to reporters. Le Thien Nhan, a regular participant on anti-China protests, was one of them.
He said several of his friends wanted to join the protest Sunday morning but were prevented from leaving their homes by police.
Several protesters were detained by police in Ho Chi Minh City. In Hanoi, while speaking to VOA, a 22-year-old protester was shoved by plain-clothes police until they eventually dragged him and his friend away.
One policewoman said gatherings were “illegal” in the area.
It’s a dramatic turnaround for the government, which just last week sanctioned large protests across the country. However, during the week riots linked to the protests broke out in industrial parks in South and Central Vietnam, with two Chinese workers killed and around 100 others injured.
Some observers have speculated that the riots gathered momentum over poor factory conditions rather than anti-China sentiment.
At a press conference on the riots on Saturday officials attempted to reassure investors. Officials said that the situation was now under control and companies affected would be compensated for their losses.
Dang Minh Khoi, assistant to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, said the protests had "badly impacted the business activities of enterprises, people’s lives and social order, creating a bad image for Vietnam’s investment environment."
Lieutenant General Hoang Kong Tu, chief of the Ministry of Public Security’s Investigation Department, told reporters that hundreds of people had been arrested.
The Ministry of Public Security has been criticized for acting too slowly, but Tu said the government’s response had been “timely”. It had reacted in a proactive and drastic manner to mitigate losses, he said.
The dispute over the oil rig shows no sign of abating. Vietnam said China has increased the number of vessels at the area to 130 vessels, including four navy ships.
China has evacuated over 3,000 citizens from Vietnam following the riots, official news agency Xinhua reported.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung sent a series of text messages to subscribers of state-run mobile phone networks calling for people to show their patriotism but not to get involved in “illegal” protests. The first of such messages were sent Thursday.
What exactly constitutes an “illegal” protest remains unclear, however the message sent by police on Sunday suggests the government will not allow space for more anti-China protests any time soon.