BEIJING, China – (UPDATED) China has evacuated more than 3,000 of its nationals from Vietnam following a wave of deadly anti-Chinese violence, state media said Sunday, May 18, as Vietnamese authorities imposed heavy security to thwart any further unrest.
Xinhua news agency said the evacuees included 16 Chinese who were "critically injured" last week in violence triggered by Beijing's deployment of an oil rig in contested South China Sea waters.
The chaos marked the worst anti-China unrest in Vietnam in decades.
Those victims left on a chartered medical flight, and China also was dispatching five ships to Vietnam to pluck more nationals to safety after vocal Vietnamese NGOs issued a call for fresh, but peaceful, protests around the country on Sunday against China's "aggression."
That call appeared to have fizzled, at least in Hanoi, where authorities deployed heavy security around the Chinese embassy and other suspected protest sites.
Agence France-Presse (AFP) could not immediately confirm whether any anti-China actions occurred elsewhere in the country, but the government on Saturday had ordered authorities nationwide to ramp up security to nip any protests in the bud.
China's positioning of the oil rig in waters claimed by both sides has ignited long-simmering enmity between the two quarrelsome communist neighbours, who have fought territorial skirmishes in the past.
Worker demonstrations spread to 22 of Vietnam's 63 provinces in the last week, according to the Vietnamese government, with enraged mobs torching foreign-owned factories and enterprises linked to China or which employed Chinese personnel.
More than 400 enterprises were hit, Vietnam's government has said.
The government has in the past occasionally allowed protesters to vent anger at the country's giant neighbour for domestic political gain.
Vietnam in damage control
But developing Vietnam depends heavily on foreign investment, and the anti-China violence Tuesday and Wednesday has bruised the country's business image and sent the government scrambling to limit the damage.
"We will not allow any acts targeting foreign investors, businesses or individuals, to ensure that the regrettable incidents will not be repeated," Dang Minh Khoi, assistant to Vietnam's foreign minister, told reporters in a briefing Saturday, May 17.
"We ask countries to continue to encourage their investors and citizens to rest assured on doing business in Vietnam."
Officials told the briefing that the violence had left two Chinese nationals dead and 140 injured. More than 300 suspected perpetrators were being prosecuted, they said.
More than 3,000 Chinese nationals had been evacuated as of Saturday afternoon, Xinhua reported early Sunday.
China's foreign ministry also advised its nationals against travelling to Vietnam for now, following what it called the "explosion of violence."
It also urged Chinese "citizens and structures in Vietnam to increase their risk-awareness, to strengthen their security prevention measures, and to avoid leaving (their premises)."
There was no immediate response from the Vietnamese government on the evacuations or the Chinese travel warning.
Xinhua said Chinese security chief Guo Shengkun had spoken to his Vietnamese counterpart, urging steps to quell the violence.
"Those violent actions created a bad image for patriotic demonstrations and the people of Vietnam; therefore, they must be stopped," said a statement issued on social media late Friday, May 17.
In a text message sent by the government to Vietnamese mobile phone users Saturday, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said authorities across the country had been ordered to "implement measures to resolutely prevent illegal demonstrations that could cause social and security disorder."
Blogs linked to groups involved in the protest call said some activists were prevented by authorities from leaving their homes Sunday morning.
China's deployment of the giant rig in early May is viewed in Hanoi as a provocative assertion of Beijing's hotly disputed claims in the South China Sea, and has been criticized by Washington as exacerbating territorial tensions.
There have been repeated skirmishes near the rig in recent days between Chinese and Vietnamese vessels, including collisions and the use of water cannon.
The violent attacks on Chinese targets in Vietnam have further inflamed the situation, with China accusing Hanoi of a role in the unrest. Beijing has refused Vietnam's demands to remove the rig.
The targeted enterprises included Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean and Singaporean businesses.
Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou has ordered commercial jets to be on standby to evacuate Taiwanese nationals should further violence erupt.
Taiwan-based China Airlines and EVA Airways have already provided extra chartered flights to Vietnam.
The oil-rig confrontation is the latest to spark alarm among China's Southeast Asian neighbours, which complain of increasing maritime intimidation by Beijing.
China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, which is believed to hold significant offshore energy reserves. – Rappler.com