Vietnamese authorities have called for calm after thousands of workers in South Vietnam attacked factories believing them to be Chinese-owned.
The unrest took place in one of Vietnam’s most important manufacturing centers in Binh Duong province.
This week, a sign on a factory gate tried to discourage attacks: “We are South Korean, no Chinese officials work at our company."
Another sign shows a Japanese flag and the words “We always support Vietnam.”
Photographs of the signs are being widely circulated on Facebook as many foreign factories try to ensure they are not mistaken for Chinese companies.
Reports say up to 20,000 workers took to the streets to protest the deployment of a state-owned Chinese oil rig in Vietnamese waters. They targeted Taiwanese and Hong Kong factories believing them to be Chinese-owned.
State-run newspaper Tuoi Tre
said on its English language site Wednesday some people “illegally rushed into office buildings… breaking glass and smashing valuable items.”
A report in the Thanh Nien
newspaper said “some took advantage of the chaos to loot, commit arson and assault security guards”.
One woman who witnessed the protests but did not want to give her name said the situation over the last few days had been chaotic.
She said she was worried about workers in Chinese factories that had been broken into, and what this could lead to.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry urged Taiwanese businessmen in Vietnam to put up signs saying "Taiwan" in Vietnamese outside their factories, to avoid being mistaken for Chinese, state-run media reported.
In Beijing, China expressed serious concerns over the incident. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying spoke at a regular news conference Wednesday.
She said China has urged Vietnamese authorities to do their utmost to stop such acts and punish those responsible and ensure the security of Chinese companies and employees.
Vietnamese authorities were quick to urge calm and send in police. Local media
reported Wednesday afternoon that 191 people have been arrested, charged with causing public disorder and inciting workers to damage property.
But it is not just in Vietnam’s interests to calm anti-China sentiment for the peace of mind of foreign investors.
Although the altercation over the oil rig is an issue of sovereignty, there is a wider issue at stake too. China is Vietnam’s biggest trading partner, with total turnover reaching over $50 billion in 2013, up 22 per cent compared with a year earlier, according to the General Statistics Office.
Economist Le Dang Doanh said if China limits exports to Vietnam, it would be a “painful blow” to the Vietnamese economy.
He said based on China’s aggressive actions, he did not exclude the possibility that China could use its economic strength to put pressure on Vietnam and the government should take active measures to minimize losses.
Although authorities say calm has been restored in Binh Duong, reports are circulating on social media of workers protesting in Vung Tau province, on Vietnam’s southern coast, and in Thai Binh in North Vietnam.
Vietnamese fishermen have alleged that Chinese forces recently blasted water cannons at them in the South China Sea, as the stand-off over a Chinese oil rig in contested waters shows no sign of easing.
The accusations come days after patrol ships from Vietnam and China exchanged water cannon spray in an area near the oil rig.
Bui Van Phai of Ly Son Island, about 160 kilometers from the scene of the sea confrontation, said in an interview with VOA’s Vietnamese Service he had to return early from a fishing trip near the disputed Paracel Island.
“We were scared away. Some ships sustained damages from water cannon fire [from Chinese forces]. As China banned fishing boats near the oil rig, we had to go around to reach our usual fishing areas. From afar, I saw a lot of ships, including military ones, around the rig. We are more concerned than before," said Phai.
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.