Analysis: South China Sea Stand-off Led to Mob Violence

Posted by Joseph Keefe
Friday, May 16, 2014

As a thousand Vietnamese rioters stormed his factory on Tuesday night, smashing windows and ripping down Chinese-language signs, Taiwanese executive Henry Yeh hid with a colleague in the back of a fire truck, clutching the only weapon he could find: a golf club.

"With that many people surrounding us, it was useless. I was afraid they would kill us," said Yeh, 27, who works for a Taiwan textile company at an industrial park in the suburbs of Ho Chi Minh City.

Yeh and his colleague eventually escaped unscathed. Others were not so fortunate.

What started as heated but peaceful nationwide protests against Chinese oil-drilling in a patch of the South China Sea claimed by Vietnam exploded into two days of rioting that left hundreds of Chinese, Taiwanese and Korean factories damaged or destroyed. The Vietnamese government says one person was killed but a doctor at a hospital near one area of rioting said he had seen 21 dead bodies and that at least 100 people were wounded.

Anger over China's maritime claims sparked the unrest, but it was also fuelled by local grievances and exploited by criminal elements intent on looting and vandalism, witnesses told Reuters. The violence quickly spread, apparently wrong-footing the police who struggled to disperse mobs of hundreds and even thousands.

The first factories hit were in Binh Duong and Dong Nai, two provinces indistinguishable from Ho Chi Minh City's manic sprawl. The worst violence took place in Ha Tinh province, 1,300 km (807 miles) further north, where pitched battles between Vietnamese rioters and Chinese workers at a big Taiwanese steel project filled a hospital with dead and wounded.

Some ruined factories were still smouldering on Thursday and hundreds of foreign workers, fearing for their safety, fled from the country by road and air.

Factories can be rebuilt. Much harder to repair is the confidence of foreign investors attracted by Vietnam's strong economic growth and stable government.

The scope and ferocity of the riots have shaken that government. It has always tried to keep tight controls on anti-Chinese protests, for fear that nationalistic fervour might morph into anger against corruption, land grabs and soaring prices.

But the noisy anti-Chinese protests that began last Sunday in Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi and other Vietnamese cities were the biggest in decades. The government tolerated them initially, apparently wanting to send a message to China, while allowing people to let off steam. But it may have miscalculated how much larger, more focused and more violent the protests would become.

MOB RULE

By Tuesday morning, protesters had gathered outside Chinese- and Taiwanese-owned factories at the Vietnam Singapore Industrial Park (VSIP) in Binh Duong, considered one of the country's best industrial parks.

The ring leaders pressured factory workers to join the protests, said the general director of a Western company at VSIP, who requested anonymity.

By mid-morning, crowds were vandalising Chinese and Taiwanese factories nearby. "It was ratcheting up as the day went on," he said.

The crowd swelled into the thousands, he said, then atomized into hundreds-strong mobs which rampaged through the park attacking factories.

One mob arrived at the front gate of his factory, which employs about 100 workers. "They left after they were sure that we were not a Chinese factory," he said. Afterwards, he sent his workers home and shut the factory.

Witnesses told Reuters the violence seemed coordinated, with men on motor-bikes scoping out targets then calling in the mob by mobile phone.

"There were definite instigators who were using the protest as a way to engage in criminal behaviour. I don't think this just sort of organically happened," said the Western company director.

Little or no protection was provided by the police, according to witnesses of the Binh Duong violence. Instead, factories hung signs over their gates expressing solidarity with Vietnam, hoping it would deter attacks.

"Down with China," read a sign at one Taiwanese factory.

As night fell on Tuesday, a much larger police presence was seen entering the area. Overnight, however, unrest spread to neighbouring Dong Nai province, taking many companies there by surprise and opening new fronts for the hard-pressed police.

At 10:30 p.m., anticipating trouble at its petrochemical and fiber material plant, Formosa Plastics Group called the police, who were overwhelmed by the rioters on motor-bikes, who broke in just before midnight.

In a four-hour spree of theft and vandalism, they robbed the offices and company dormitory of televisions, computers and other valuables. "The looters claimed to be patriotic, but actually broke into Chinese-owned factories in the province for stealing and destruction," the company said in a statement.

Many foreign workers fled the area, despite reports of roadblocks put up by rioters. Taiwanese businessman Chong Ming-cheng, 50, disguised himself as a Vietnamese worker and rode out on a motor-bike. "The Vietnamese didn't really notice me," he said.

One foreign businessman told Reuters Westerners helped Taiwanese flee at least one industrial park in the trunks of their cars.

Others spent a terrifying Tuesday night holed up in besieged factories.

Dexter Hsu, a product developer at a Taiwan-owned footwear company in Binh Duong, hid with Chinese and other Taiwanese workers at a company dorm, its doors barricaded with furniture. Earlier that day, thousands of flag-waving Vietnamese had entered the factory, which employs 9,000 Vietnamese and about 100 Taiwanese or Chinese.

"We took turns watching out for intruders," said Hsu. "We were too scared to even turn on the lights." The next day, Hsu and his foreign colleagues sneaked out a back door into cars with tinted windows and drove to the safety of Ho Chi Minh City.

"Overall, this is a terrifying situation," said Hsu. "Most Vietnamese can't tell the difference between Taiwan and China. They generally think Taiwan is simply a province of China."

Wednesday morning came, and the violence spread in Dong Nai. At the factory of Simon Shen, a Chinese employee at Taiwanese shrimp feed firm Grobest Industrial, employees took down all signs with Chinese characters, then convinced a mob outside that the company was American.

"I don't remember if they carried sticks or other weapons, but if I walked out, I would have been stampeded to death," said Shen. "I saw several policemen walking around. But what could they do?"

The Grobest factory was spared, but a neighbouring Chinese one was looted.

"TREAT CHINESE LIKE THEY TREAT US"


By Wednesday evening, 460 companies in Binh Duong had reported some damage, according to a report by the province's police cited in the state-run Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper.

At least 40 policemen were injured by rock-throwing "extremists" and 599 people arrested, said the newspaper.

But Wednesday's worst violence was in Ha Tinh province, far to the north, at a giant steel plant under construction by Formosa Plastics Group, Taiwan's biggest investor in Vietnam.

There, anger over Chinese muscle-flexing in the remote South China Sea commingled with local grievances.

Nguyen Van Phong, 56, a farmer in Ha Tinh, accused the steel plant of grabbing land and inundating the area with Chinese workers. "We've been angry with China for a long time," he said.

A factory worker in Ha Tinh, speaking to Reuters by phone, said five Vietnamese protesters entered the Formosa complex on Wednesday afternoon to ask the workers to join them. Rumours circulated among the crowd that two of the Vietnamese had been beaten to death by Chinese.

Soon, about 5,000 Vietnamese were battling 1,000 Chinese at the entrance before setting parts of the plant ablaze.

"I saw 13 Chinese dead and dozens of them injured," said the Ha Tinh factory worker, who asked Reuters to withhold her name. "Vietnamese workers didn't want to send the Chinese to hospital. They said, 'Let them be. We treat Chinese like they treated us'. But then the police came and took them to hospital."

Up to 21 people were killed and hundreds injured, a local doctor told Reuters. Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh confirmed one death and described media reports and accounts on social networking sites of higher casualties as "groundless".

Ha Tinh police said they had detained 76 people as of Thursday afternoon.

UNCERTAIN FUTURE


By Thursday morning, hundreds of Chinese were pouring out of Vietnam into Cambodia. Others were crowding onto flights to China and Taiwan.

But many laid low in Vietnam at ravaged industrial estates whose future looks uncertain.

Henry Yeh, the Taiwanese textile executive, said some smaller Taiwanese companies now talked about pulling out of Vietnam rather than making costly repairs. Bigger companies would stay but freeze investment plans, he said.

Belatedly, riot police were out in force in the industrial estates. Many factories have remained closed, while others were already adapting to life in post-riot Vietnam.

A notice outside the Grobest factory said it is closed, but production continued inside on Thursday. The company now used local transport to move its goods, said employee Cindy Chu.

"We don't dare to use our company's vehicles," she said.

 

Reporting by Martin Petty, Ho Binh Minh, Yimou Lee and Nikki Sun, John Ruwitch in Shanghai and Faith Hung

Maritime Reporter June 2015 Digital Edition
FREE Maritime Reporter Subscription
Latest Maritime News    rss feeds

Navy

‘Old Salt’ Designation Passed to Vice Adm. Tidd

The “Old Salt” designation, honoring the Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) serving on active duty with the earliest Surface Warfare Qualification, passed from Adm. Sam Locklear to Vice Adm.

First Bodies Recovered from Deadliest Migrant Shipwreck

Italy's navy said on Tuesday it had retrieved the first bodies from the wreck of a boat that sank in the Mediterranean three months ago, killing up to 800 migrants

Wartsila Tunnel Thruster Gets LR Approval

Wartsila has successfully passed the final step of the Lloyd's Register (LRS) classification society's Type Approval process to obtain an LR Type Approval Certificate

Patrol Boats

Tuco Reveals New Naval Interceptor Vessel Design

Following last week’s Seawork exhibition on workboats and small military and security vessels, Tuco Marine of Denmark reveals its newest vessel in the ProZero line.

Cargo Ship Celtica Hav Diverted To Aberdeen after Fire

Fire erupted in cargo holds of general cargo vessel Celtica Hav on June 25 shortly after she left Aberdeen UK, bound for Hamburg.    Vessel, which was bound for Hamburg,

New Fast Small Ship Simulator

A new Fast Small Ship Simulator for training crews working on high speed boats is in development. Together with Cruden and Tree C Technology, the Royal Dutch Naval

Maritime Security

Pirates and Hold-ups: Crime Strikes Venezuela's Oil Industry

When night falls over western Venezuela, armed gangs known as "pirates" sometimes ride boats into muggy Lake Maracaibo to steal equipment from oil wells.   In the country's Paraguana peninsula,

Activists Planning Protest Against Shell's Arctic Business

U.S. environmental activists said they planned to protest on Tuesday against the launch of the second of two oil rigs central to Shell's plans to drill for oil in the Arctic.

Samsung Bags Order for Decks on Johan Sverdrup

Statoil, on behalf of the Johan Sverdrup license, has awarded Samsung the contract for decks for both the process and riser platforms.  The total contract value is NOK 7 billion.

Coast Guard

Coast Guard Monitoring Rocket Debris off US

The U.S. Coast Guard informs it is working with SpaceX and partner agencies to monitor the debris field of the exploded Falcon 9 rocket in the Atlantic Ocean more

Shell Rig Departs for Arctic Despite Protest

U.S. Coast Guard and police boats cleared a way through protesters in kayaks at a Seattle-area port on Tuesday so a drilling ship could head for the Arctic on behalf of Royal Dutch Shell.

Missing Divers Found in Gulf of Mexico

U.S. Coast Guard crews locate two missing divers in Gulf of Mexico   Two overdue divers offshore from San Jose Island, Texas, were rescued by a U.S. Coast Guard

Maritime Safety

Motion Compensation Solution for Solan Field

Ampelmann provides access solution for commissioning of the Solan project in West of Shetland   Motion compensated access solutions developer Ampelmann informs

Pirates and Hold-ups: Crime Strikes Venezuela's Oil Industry

When night falls over western Venezuela, armed gangs known as "pirates" sometimes ride boats into muggy Lake Maracaibo to steal equipment from oil wells.   In the country's Paraguana peninsula,

Coast Guard Monitoring Rocket Debris off US

The U.S. Coast Guard informs it is working with SpaceX and partner agencies to monitor the debris field of the exploded Falcon 9 rocket in the Atlantic Ocean more

Eye on the Navy

‘Old Salt’ Designation Passed to Vice Adm. Tidd

The “Old Salt” designation, honoring the Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) serving on active duty with the earliest Surface Warfare Qualification, passed from Adm. Sam Locklear to Vice Adm.

First Bodies Recovered from Deadliest Migrant Shipwreck

Italy's navy said on Tuesday it had retrieved the first bodies from the wreck of a boat that sank in the Mediterranean three months ago, killing up to 800 migrants

HMS Queen Elizabeth Powers to Life

U.K. Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth has produced power from her onboard diesel generators (DGs) for the first time, marking a significant stage in the program.

Government Update

Monopiles Terminal to Be Built in Rotterdam

Sif and Verbrugge to build terminal for offshore wind energy on Maasvlakte 2   Sif Group, Verbrugge International and the Port of Rotterdam Authority have signed

US Issues Potential Setback to Shell's Arctic Drilling

The Obama administration issued a potential setback to Royal Dutch Shell's  Arctic oil exploration plans on Tuesday, telling the company that established wildlife

Ex-BP Engineer Deserves New Gulf Spill Trial -US Appeals Court

A former BP Plc engineer deserves a new trial on an obstruction of justice charge related to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday.

 
 
Maritime Security Naval Architecture Navigation Offshore Oil Pipelines Salvage Ship Repair Ship Simulators Sonar Winch
rss | archive | history | articles | privacy | contributors | top maritime news | about us | copyright | maritime magazines
maritime security news | shipbuilding news | maritime industry | shipping news | maritime reporting | workboats news | ship design | maritime business

Time taken: 0.1367 sec (7 req/sec)