Friday, 16 May 2014

Anti-China riots turn deadly in Vietnam

Order restored, says Vietnam
By Nirmal Ghosh Indochina Bureau Chief In Bangkok, The Straits Times, 16 May 2014

VIETNAM says it has restored order across the country and will prosecute rioters following two days of violent anti-China protests that have left well over 100 injured and at least two dead.

"Order has been restored in those areas and we will take every measure necessary to ensure security and safety of the lives and property of foreign companies, including Chinese companies," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh.

Xinhua news agency reported that two Chinese workers died, one at a Taiwanese steel plant in central Vietnam and the other at a bicycle parts factory in the south. Vietnam reported one fatality.

Anti-China protests erupted after China earlier this month deployed an oil rig near the Paracel Islands claimed by Beijing and Hanoi that led to sea skirmishes. Industrial parks, including those run by Singapore, were attacked.

In a reprimand to Vietnam, Beijing's Foreign Ministry said it was "shocked and concerned" at the incidents that saw scores of ethnic Chinese-owned factories attacked and sent hundreds of Chinese and Taiwanese scrambling to leave the country.

"We urge the Vietnamese government to earnestly assume responsibility, get to the bottom of the incident, punish the perpetrators harshly, and pay compensation," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said.

She said the violence in Vietnam had "a direct link with the Vietnamese side's indulgence and connivance in recent days with some domestic anti-China forces and lawbreakers".

Asked by reporters how many Chinese had died, she said only that Chinese officials were travelling to central Vietnam to verify the situation and the government was shocked by reports that the death toll could be over 20.

Meanwhile, Chinese state media and netizens reacted with fury over the reports of violence.

"Vietnam is digging its own grave," warned an editorial in the nationalistic Global Times, adding that it should not play games with a great power.

Earlier, the paper reported that Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had urged Vietnam not to "further complicate and aggravate the current maritime friction". He said: "China's position on safeguarding its legitimate sovereign rights and interests is firm and will not change."

Vietnam Coast Guard commander Nguyen Quang Dam yesterday said China's deployment of 70 to 80 "warships" and aircraft to protect the rig was "unacceptable", but that Vietnam will not send in naval ships.

In Ho Chi Minh City, an hour's drive from where factories were attacked, opinion was mixed. Clothes seller Boi Huu Tam, 39, had joined protests earlier but disagreed with the rioting. "We buy a lot from China; we shouldn't be fighting."

Vietnam DPM promises Singapore PM full probe into riots at industrial park
Channel NewsAsia, 22 May 2014

Vietnam Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam has conveyed deep regret to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on behalf of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, over the anti-China protests and damage to the Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Parks in Vietnam's Binh Duong province.

During their meeting in Tokyo today (22/5), Deputy Prime Minister Dam reassured Mr Lee that the Vietnamese authorities will conduct a full investigation and take the necessary action.

Prime Minister Lee expressed appreciation for Mr Dam's assurance that the incidents would not happen again, as well as Vietnam's efforts to resolve the situation.

Mr Lee also reiterated Singapore's position on recent developments in the South China Sea, after getting an update from the Deputy Prime Minister.

Prime Minister Lee said Singapore takes no sides in the territorial disputes, and that these should be managed peacefully in accordance with international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

S'pore not target in Viet unrest, says Shanmugam
By Jeremy Au Yong, The Straits Times, 17 May 2014

THE riots in Vietnam may have taken place in Singapore-run industrial parks, but Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam said he does not believe the anger is targeted at Singapore.

Asked about Singapore's involvement in the unrest in Vietnam over its territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea, he said: "I don't think Singapore is being dragged into it; it just happens that this industrial park has a number of Chinese companies who operate out of there.

"We haven't fully investigated but that seems to be the reason for the protest and the attacks."

He also told Singapore reporters at a briefing on Thursday that he did not have enough information to comment on reports that a Singapore flag was burned by protesters.

Mr Shanmugam, who was in Washington on a week-long visit to the United States, said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was not issuing a travel advisory for Singaporeans in or headed to Vietnam.

The ministry has, however, raised its concerns with the Vietnamese authorities.

"We think that (attacks) shouldn't happen, and authorities need to stop that from happening. In the end, people come, they invest, they believe in structure and they believe security will be guaranteed and, really, we believe it's incumbent on the government to guarantee that."

On whether he was confident that the government would be able to preserve order, he said: "We have been assured and I see no reason to disbelieve those assurances."

The remarks were the first from Mr Shanmugam since anti-China protesters attacked factories in two Singapore-run industrial parks earlier this week.

The attacks appeared to have been triggered by tensions over an oil rig that China deployed in the South China Sea.

Mr Shanmugam said Singapore does not take sides on the territorial claims but wants to have disputes settled peacefully.

"That's what the declaration of conduct is all about and that's why we need to get on with a code of conduct," he said, referring to two Asean instruments, the first in place since 2002 and the second being negotiated, to manage territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Singapore condemns burning of national flag in Vietnam
The Straits Times, 15 May 2014

THE BURNING of a Singapore national flag by Vietnamese protesters, who apparently mistook it for the flag of China, has drawn a sharp rebuke from the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) that called the offensive action "a serious incident".

Factories in two Singapore-run industrial parks, the Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Park (VSIP) I and II in Vietnam's south-eastern Binh Duong province, were on Tuesday torched and looted by anti-China protesters.

The violent mob was angry with China for deploying an oil drilling rig in disputed waters near the Paracels, a chain of islands claimed by both Vietnam and China in the South China Sea.

In a statement issued on Thursday, the MFA said it has verified that a Singapore flag was burnt by demonstrators in the VSIP I on Tuesday.

It is believed that the protesters mistook the red-and-white Singapore flag that features five white stars and a white crescent for the Chinese national flag which is wholly red with five yellow stars.

The MFA said the Singapore Embassy in Hanoi has conveyed its strong concerns over the flag burning incident to the Vietnamese government and sought assurance from authorities that the incident will not occur again.

There have not been any reports of Singaporeans affected by the demonstrations so far, the MFA added.

The anti-China demonstrations have spread to 22 of Vietnam's 63 provinces, with at least one Chinese worker dead, the AFP reported.

Firms from Taiwan bear brunt of riots in Vietnam
More than 100 Taiwan-owned firms attacked; many have suspended work
By Li Xueying Regional Correspondent In Hong Kong, The Straits Times, 16 May 2014

WEDNESDAY night was a hot night in Vietnam. And inside the Taiwan-owned steel mill being built in the central Ha Tinh province, temperatures were even higher, hitting 45 deg C.

So when Vietnamese workers taunted their Chinese counterparts about the dispute in the South China Sea, it lit up the already combustible atmosphere. Words turned into blows between both sides, which numbered about 500 each, and the facilities were set on fire.

As the conflagration raged on, a Chinese worker sought refuge in an "enclosed space" where he was later found dead from heat stroke.

The incident at Taiwan conglomerate Formosa Plastics Group's steel plant is the first confirmed fatality from the rash of anti-China protests that erupted across Vietnam this week.

Mr Yu Chin-chang, assistant to vice-president at Formosa, said over the phone from its headquarters in Taipei that the workers involved were hired by a Chinese contractor for infrastructure building. He declined to give more details about the dead worker.

Work at the US$20 billion (S$25 billion) steel mill has ground to a halt, he said. It was slated for completion in 2017, when it would be South-east Asia's largest steel-making facility.

Prestige projects and smaller factories alike owned by ethnic Chinese interests have been the collateral damage in popular Vietnamese anger at China over its oil rig deployed in disputed waters off the Vietnamese coast.

Firms from Taiwan, Vietnam's fourth-largest foreign investor, have borne the brunt. More than 100 Taiwan-owned firms were attacked and 10 set on fire, said Taiwan's Vice-Economics Minister Shen Jong-chin yesterday. Some 400 have suspended operations.

The costs will add up. Accumulated investments from Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong and mainland China in Vietnam, a popular investor destination in the past decade for its relatively cheap and hard-working workers, totalled US$75 billion last year.

Yesterday, those in Vietnam described a grim atmosphere. Some expatriates disguised themselves as locals by donning factory uniforms to flee factories; others checked into hotels for security.

"There is a real sense of fear," Mr Chen Bor-show, director-general for the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Ho Chi Minh City which acts as Taiwan's consulate, told The Straits Times.

"Over 1,000 Taiwanese have left and we are arranging for more to go." More than 40,000 Taiwanese businessmen and their families live in Vietnam.

He added, however, that things have calmed down, with the office calling local police to help those trapped in factories to leave.

The Taiwanese government yesterday said it will distribute 20,000 posters with the words "I am Taiwanese, I come from Taiwan" to its people in Vietnam.

But this - even if effective - comes too late for many.

A spokesman for Toung Loong Textile said it has closed its two factories in Binh Duong province after doors and windows were damaged, and put up its Taiwanese workers in hotels while discussing if they should return home. Its more than 300 local workers were told to stay home.

Investors from Hong Kong have also been hit. Esquel Group, which makes cotton for brands such as Ralph Lauren and Muji, has had its factory burned down, confirmed a spokesman in Hong Kong. All its employees are safe.

With the crisis still spinning itself out, many firms are taking a wait-and-see approach to whether they will leave for good.

Political risk consultant Raymond Wu notes that many Taiwan companies have sunk money, effort and technology into Vietnam over the past 10 to 15 years.

"If things can be brought under control within a week or 10 days, and the government can give reassurances that the chaos will not be repeated, most will not want to relocate. But beyond that, the damage will be permanent."

Viet police quell riots at S'pore-run industrial parks
Factories attacked and looted by anti-China protesters
By Nirmal Ghosh Indochina Bureau Chief In Bangkok, The Straits Times, 15 May 2014

VIETNAMESE police rushed to restore order at two Singapore-run industrial parks targeted on Tuesday by anti-China protesters who attacked and looted factories.

"Local police have re-established security control," the Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Park (VSIP) said in a statement yesterday, adding that 99 factories were damaged. The two parks are located in south-eastern Binh Duong province, an hour's drive north of Ho Chi Minh City.

Overnight on Tuesday, some 2,000 policemen were outnumbered by up to 20,000 workers targeting Chinese factories but who also mistakenly attacked Taiwanese-owned ones in the industrial parks, joint ventures between Becamex IDC Corp and a Singapore consortium led by Sembcorp Development. Reports said two Taiwanese were injured in the unrest, sparked by China's recent deployment of an oil rig in waters that Hanoi says belong to Vietnam.

"Police have been deployed to protect Taiwanese factories," Binh Duong's propaganda department chief Vo Minh Giao told The Straits Times yesterday.

Separately, the provincial authorities urged people not to give in to "provocateurs" and vowed to nab the culprits.

Reports said about 500 people had been arrested.

By yesterday afternoon, all gates to the parks were being protected by "hundreds of police", according to Mr Yutaka Murakami, an engineer at a Thai construction firm in one of the parks.

Tuesday's rampage forced many Taiwanese and Chinese support staff to leave the parks, with some flying out of the country.

Anger has been growing in Vietnam since China announced the deployment on May 3 and skirmishes broke out subsequently between Vietnamese and Chinese ships in waters near the oil rig.

At the weekend, Vietnam allowed rallies to be held in major cities against what state media calls the "Chinese incursion".

"I felt anti-Chinese sentiment all around as I talked to locals at the weekend," a Singaporean executive visiting Ho Chi Minh City said in an e-mail. "I have been advised not to speak Mandarin. All events in the city like (yesterday's) Hong Kong business group meeting have been cancelled."

In Dong Nai, east of Ho Chi Minh City, a Vietnamese woman who works for a Taiwanese shoe company told The Straits Times her employer closed its four factories after protesters tried to smash its gates. Some 1,000 protesters were on motorcycles and waving Vietnamese flags.

"People can't tell the difference between Taiwanese and Chinese," said the woman, who did not want to be named.

Singapore and Taiwan have summoned Vietnam's ambassadors over the incidents.

Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it registered "serious concerns about… the attacks on foreign companies in the two industrial parks". It also called for order to be restored before the situation worsened and investor confidence was undermined.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying yesterday accused Vietnam of deliberately staging incidents at sea for the media. She also said Vietnamese ships rammed Chinese vessels 169 times yesterday alone.

Sembcorp said in a statement that over 200 people had been evacuated from the parks, adding that it was working closely with VSIP to continue to provide assistance to affected tenants.

Rioting is rioting, not nationalism
By Jason Morris-jung, Published The Straits Times, 21 May 2014

THE problem with using nationalism as an explanation for the riotous protests that broke out in Vietnam last week is that nationalism does not explain anything.

It does not answer the key questions of the moment. Who exactly was involved? How were they organised? What were their underlying motivations? And, above all, why did nationalist demonstrations that had until then been exemplary in their restraint and orderliness suddenly turn violent?

While many reporters and experts view the riots that broke out in the provincial towns of Binh Duong, Dong Nai and Ha Tinh on Tuesday last week as nationalist zealotry, these incidents should be clearly distinguished from the widespread outpouring of nationalist sentiment that had preceded them and, especially, the two peaceful demonstrations that were held in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City only two days before.

Mistaking one for the other fails to understand the complex domestic politics of Vietnamese nationalism today, and does grave injustice to the vast majority of Vietnamese citizens peacefully expressing their right to protect the nation.

Shortly after the first reports of the ramming of a Vietnamese ship to protect Chinese oil rig HD 981 in disputed waters of the South China Sea on May 3, groups of prominent Vietnamese intellectuals, bloggers and civil activists took to the blogosphere to condemn Chinese aggression and demand resolute action. Those leading these discussions are part of a growing political culture in Vietnam that has become increasingly vocal in its criticism of both the state and the ruling Communist Party, especially since the widespread controversy over bauxite mining in 2009.

In ways not seen since at least the Vietnam War, this controversy brought together numerous and diverse Vietnamese groups in common opposition to a major state policy. Among them was no less than the late legendary general Vo Nguyen Giap, who had also raised concerns about Chinese involvement in these bauxite mining projects.

Since then, the number and diversity of Vietnamese groups that have been daring to challenge the state authorities publicly on major policy issues have been increasing. One of the main forces driving them together has been the perceived complacency or incompetency of the Vietnamese leadership in its dealings with Beijing.

Many of these groups and individuals were also at the centre of public demonstrations regarding the South China Sea in 2011 and 2012. These demonstrations were held in the nation's main cities. The protesters came from diverse urban groups, announced their protests beforehand, discussed the issues extensively online and their demonstrations were invariably peaceful, at least until they were broken up and dispersed by state security officials.

In comparison, the riots that broke out in Binh Duong, Dong Nai and Ha Tinh last week were of an entirely different character. They involved an entirely different set of people. The organisation was covert, and the protests were carried out in the industrial zones of provincial towns. Notably, they were also riotous and violent. In fact, many of those groups that had endorsed the initial demonstrations in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City were quick to condemn these violent incidents. On the blogosphere and for the vast majority of Vietnamese, these latter incidents were riots out of control, not expressions of Vietnamese nationalism.

Even to refer to these expressions of nationalism that led to the initial demonstrations in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City as "anti-Chinese" is somewhat misleading. Tightly wound into their arguments is also a pointed critique of Vietnamese state politics. They rail against the lack of transparency with which the leadership typically deals with Beijing, its tendency to restrict information and avoid public discussion, and, above all, its punishment of Vietnamese citizens who raise their voices to defend the nation.

For example, the Declaration of 20 Civil Society Organisations included in its condemnation of China a demand to release blogger Anh Ba Sam. The latter is well known for his outspoken views on the South China Sea and was, incidentally, arrested only two days after the ramming incident around HD 981.

Thus, to assume that "nationalism" necessarily unites state and society is to miss completely how those dynamics are currently being played out in Vietnam.

This also brings us to the question of whether the domestic protests might have been deliberately allowed or even manipulated by the Vietnamese state to leverage its international bargaining power. China has done so in similar confrontations with Japan in the East China Sea.

However, if this is true, then the Vietnamese leadership has badly overplayed its hand. Not only do the recent riots furnish the Chinese leadership with reasons to take a harsher stance towards Vietnam, they have also led to division at home, not least of all between state authorities and the masses of peaceful demonstrators expressing nationalist sentiments.

One can even notice subtle discursive shifts among state officials and the state-controlled media. Statements of strong action against China and protecting the nation have been replaced by statements about the need for strong action against rioters and the need to protect Chinese and other multinational firms.

Unfortunately for the Vietnamese, this most recent bout of riotous protests plays right into the hands of the Chinese leadership. Returning peaceful protesters in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City on Sunday were met with guarded barricades and security forces dispersing crowds and carrying away suspected agitators.

One wonders whether the state authorities are not also using "nationalism" to justify more forcible measures against the domestic criticism that has been steadily growing against them.

The writer is a visiting fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) whose research focuses on the intersections of politics, society and the environment in Vietnam. He first worked in Vietnam in 1999 as a volunteer for a joint Canada-Vietnam research project on rural poverty.

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