Smoke rises from the Maxim company building in Binh Duong province on Wednesday
Escalating violence in Vietnam fuelled by anti-Chinese sentiment has turned deadly with reports of as many as 20 people killed during rioting which broke out after attacks targeting Chinese nationals and foreign-owned factories, prompting a strong condemnation from Beijing.
A doctor at a hospital in central Vietnam’s Ha Tinh province said five Vietnamese workers and 16 other people described as Chinese were killed in riots on Wednesday night, which stemmed from anger at China’s increasingly assertive stance in a territorial dispute with Vietnam in the resource-rich South China Sea.
‘‘There were about a hundred people sent to the hospital last night. Many were Chinese. More are being sent to the hospital this morning,’’ the doctor at Ha Tinh General Hospital
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular press briefing in Beijing that China was “deeply shocked” by the report, but that because of the remote location of the reported incident, Chinese officials had yet to confirm the numbers of dead and injured.
When asked whether China believed the Vietnamese government – which usually cracks down swiftly on any form of public dissent – had played a part in orchestrating the violence, Ms Hua said ‘‘the trashing and burning activities . . . have everything to do with Vietnamese indulgence and connivance’’.
In separate riots in Binh Duong province, near Ho Chi Minh City in the country’s south, at least one Chinese worker was killed and more than 90 injured after thousands of Vietnamese workers set fire to dozens of factories. The brunt of the violence was borne by Taiwanese, Hong Kong and South Korean firms, apparently mistaken by rioters for mainland Chinese businesses. Foreign factory owners took to flying Vietnamese or US flags to avoid being swept up in the violence and looting.
The focus of anger has been China’s decision – despite promises to settle territorial disputes via diplomacy – to deploy an oil rig escorted by a flotilla of coast guard and other ships off the Vietnamese coast, which resulted in ships ramming into each other and the trading of water cannon fire.
Analysts say the Vietnamese government is wary that popular unrest could veer into calls for democracy, noting initial press reports of the violence were removed from the internet hours later.
Vietnamese authorities said that more than 400 people were arrested after the riots.
‘‘No one knows what really caused the riots – only initially did it seem to be about the Chinese,’’ Truong Huy San, an author and well-known blogger, said after touring the industrial zone. ‘‘These were totally uncontrolled crowds.’’
Adding to the tension in the regions has been growing Philippines protest over China’s reclamation of land at a contested coral reef in the South China Sea.
The Philippines department of foreign affairs on Thursday released a series of photographs gathered by Philippine intelligence sources showing “extensive reclamation” by China on Johnson South Reef, amid claims it plans to build an airstrip on the reef.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, putting it at odds with Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia.
Grant Newsham, senior research fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies, said China’s pattern of behaviour has been to “push and test the response” from other countries, in a long-term game to assert control over the South China Sea.
“Ultimately, it is looking to see what it can get away with,” he said. “Its military capability has markedly increased along with its economic heft, and it is less willing to negotiate and back down.”