May 15, 2014 8:59 p.m. EDT

Anti-Chinese Violence Rattles Vietnam

By Vu Trong Khanh in Hanoi and Jenny W. Hsu in Taipei

Anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam left at least two dead by Thursday and provoked an angry outburst in Beijing, which accused Hanoi of abetting the mobs.

The outburst of violence -- rare for Vietnam -- began earlier this week outside Ho Chi Minh City in response to a tense standoff over an oil rig China placed in a disputed part of the South China Sea. Rioting quickly spread to hundreds of businesses with no ties to the dispute: Taiwanese, South Korean, Japanese and Malaysian plants were swept up in a wave of arson and vandalism that left factories in ruins and scores of people injured.

Unrest also erupted elsewhere in Vietnam. A local official said a Chinese contractor and a Vietnamese worker were killed Wednesday night in rioting at a Taiwanese factory in Ha Tinh province, in the central part of the country.

The Chinese government said it held Vietnamese officials responsible for the "trashing, burning and looting" as rioting continued on Thursday. "We are deeply shocked," said Hua Chunying, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman.

Vietnam sent in police and military to quell the unrest in the factory areas in south and central Vietnam, and by late Thursday the disturbances appeared to have calmed.

But many foreign businesspeople took steps to get out. Ho Chi Minh's international airport was full of Chinese and Taiwanese travelers Thursday. Some sat for hours waiting to get tickets. Taiwanese officials have been at the airport for the past two days, helping their nationals -- including several who had left their passports at their factories -- resolve ticket and exit paperwork issues. One Taiwanese official estimated that at least 3,000 Taiwanese were leaving.

Meanwhile, more than 600 people thought to be Chinese nationals fled into Cambodia, said Cambodian National Police spokesman Kirt Chantharith. They went through Bavet, a town that lies along a highway that connects Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City.

"They were taking buses and taxis. We don't know whether they are investors or just tourists," Mr. Chantharith said. "We think they came because of the violence and demonstrations in Vietnam. They are afraid."

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung on Thursday called on all provinces, ministries and governmental agencies to prevent further riots and punish lawbreakers. He also urged help for affected businesses to get back to normal.

It was unclear whether the attacks on non-Chinese factories were cases of mistaken identity, or whether the oil-rig furor had set off resentment at any signs of foreigners.

Yen Chen-shen, a research fellow at Taiwan's National Chengchi University's Institute of International Relations, labeled the oil rig a catalyst for expressing deeper anger. "The influx of foreign companies in Vietnam in recent years has widened the wealth gap there," Mr. Yen said. "For the locals, prices have gone up, but wages haven't caught up. Although the protest is about China's oil rig, the core anger and fear is against foreign exploitation of their country."

China's anger at what Ms. Hua, of China's Foreign Ministry, said was Vietnamese government "connivance" in the protests in part reflects the Chinese government's shock at the violent protests, experts said.

"In the past there were also massive protests against China. But now they are smashing factories and threatening Chinese safety," said Ren Xiao of Fudan University in Shanghai.

Huang Gang, a manager at a Chinese waste-oil recovery business, said manufacturing at his factory in Long An province in southern Vietnam has been halted for two days amid protests. "The Vietnamese don't know Chinese words. They attacked factories and shops as long as they saw Chinese signs, regardless whether the owners are Chinese, Taiwanese or Vietnam-born Chinese. Luckily I didn't put a Chinese sign," he said. "I'm still very scared. I dare not go out."

A manager at Zhejiang Supor Co.'s Ho Chi Minh City facility said the Chinese appliance maker halted production and evacuated workers after it was alerted by the Chinese Consulate that a Chinese plant nearby had been attacked by rioters. Supor's factory has more than 400 employees, including 20 Chinese workers. As of Wednesday, 16 Chinese workers had returned to China.


Eva Dou, Rose Yu, Sun Narin and Lien Hoang contributed to this article.

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