Chinese Boats Evacuate Citizens From Vietnam After Protests

Two Chinese boats collected workers from central Vietnam, even as Vietnamese authorities thwarted anti-China protests after violent demonstrations resulted in two deaths and damage at factories.

Two Chinese passenger ships left the Vietnamese port of Vung Ang after picking up 1,908 Chinese nationals, Tran Dac Hoa, vice president of the Labor Federation in Ha Tinh province, said by phone. More than 3,000 people will be evacuated today and tomorrow, he said.

Two more Chinese ships are expected to come to the port, with a further vessel on standby, said Duong The Cuong, head of the port in Ha Tinh. More than 3,000 Chinese nationals had already been brought home as of May 17, China’s Foreign Ministry said yesterday, with more than 290 flown to Chengdu.

Security forces in Vietnam’s major cities yesterday deterred people from protesting the placement of an oil rig in disputed waters off Vietnam’s coast after the government allowed unprecedented rallies that drew several thousand people on May 11. The anti-China attacks on foreign-owned factories last week also left about 140 injured, halting production lines and causing Taiwanese and other workers to flee the country.

China’s move to send ships to pick up its workers “could have been an overreaction,” said David Koh, an independent consultant and former senior fellow at the Institute for Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore who has studied Vietnam for more than 20 years.

“Whether it is purposely done, intended as a political statement or not, that’s very hard to tell,” Koh said. “The signal could actually be for the Chinese citizens as well, to tell them that the Chinese state does care for them.”

Curbing Protests

Vietnam authorities, worried that uncontrolled demonstrations could lead to instability and harm the economy, prevented planned protests over the weekend as China sought to shift the spotlight to Vietnam’s lack of order, said Le Hong Hiep, a lecturer at Vietnam National University in Ho Chi Minh City.

“The government is careful not to let the anti-China demonstrations cause collateral damage,” he said by phone. “Vietnam needs to assure China that it will protect its citizens. China is portraying itself as a victim and portraying the Vietnamese government as a source of tension.”

Thousands of workers at foreign-invested companies in Vung Ang Industrial Park, the scene of one of the worst riots, have returned to work, Ha Tinh Provincial Industrial Park Management Board said today on its website. About 90 percent of workers at industrial parks in Binh Duong province had resumed work, the Thanh Nien newspaper reported, citing provincial officials it did not identify.

Tour Suspensions

Some Chinese travel agencies have suspended Vietnam tour services after the protests, China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported, with advising customers against Vietnam trips and refunding customers who have already booked tours.

Taiwan’s foreign minister is urging Vietnam to compensate companies that were attacked. China called on Vietnam to protect the lives and property of Chinese nationals and organizations in the country.

The Chinese government is “genuinely concerned about the safety of Chinese workers in Vietnam,” said Ian Storey, a senior fellow at ISEAS. “That said, Vietnam did have the moral high ground and they’ve lost some of that now due to the riots, so the sending of evacuation ships is also one way of trying to gain the upper hand in the ongoing public relations war over the deployment of the oil rig.”

Order Restored

China has suspended some cooperation projects with Vietnam, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters today in Beijing. Hong did not specify particular projects that had been affected.

“The security environment in Vietnam has deteriorated significantly, and the China side has to suspend related communication and cooperation plans,” Hong said. “We will make specific decisions according to the development of the situation on the ground.”

A total of 224 Taiwanese companies were damaged in the protests, with 18 set on fire, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs.

Vietnam’s government said order has been restored. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, in a mobile-phone text message sent to Vietnamese yesterday, urged citizens to “display patriotism peacefully,” refrain from unlawful protests and “help the government to keep social order and security.”

Three hundred protesters will soon be prosecuted, Vietnamese authorities said May 18. Protesters damaged the foreign-owned factories during violent demonstrations in the southern province of Binh Duong and in central Vietnam.

Riot Police

Riot police are patrolling the Vietnam Singapore Industrial Park in Binh Duong, where protesters attacked factories. Hundreds of security forces barricaded and guarded areas around China’s embassy in Hanoi and consulate in Ho Chi Minh City yesterday. As many as 100 people were surrounded by security after attempting to protest in Ho Chi Minh City, said Truong Thi Nguyen Thao. The group’s leaders were taken away, said Thao, who witnessed the aborted rally.

The Binh Duong government will exempt protest-damaged companies from land rental charges, Vietnam’s official state television reported yesterday, citing Le Thanh Cung, chairman of the provincial People’s Committee.

The resumption of operations by companies including Formosa Chemicals & Fibre Corp. and China Steel Corp. have eased some fears that the riots would crimp global supply chains and hurt the Southeast Asian nation’s economic growth.

The country’s benchmark VN Index gained 0.7 percent today, reversing an early decline and finishing at its highest level since May 9.

Standoff Continues

The standoff in the South China Sea near the oil rig continues, with Chinese and Vietnamese boats in the area and Vietnam demanding that China withdraw the rig.

“The concern about Chinese nationals is quite localized,” said Ben Reichel, executive director of Australian-listed Donaco International Ltd., when asked about evacuations of Chinese from Vietnam.

Donaco operates a hotel and casino in the Vietnamese town of Lao Cai, on the border with China, and yesterday announced a soft opening for an expansion. Almost all of the casino’s clients are Chinese, according to Reichel.

“Chinese players are coming across the border quite freely,” he said by phone from Hong Kong. “We had a soft opening yesterday and it was very well attended.”

— With assistance by John Boudreau, Jason Folkmanis, and K Oanh Ha

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