HANOI: Vietnam’s prime minister sent a text message to millions of citizens urging them to act in defence of the country’s sovereignty following China’s deployment of an oil rig in disputed waters, but said that “bad elements” shouldn’t be allowed to engage in violence.
The message, sent late Thursday and into yesterday, didn’t directly condemn the riots that have broken out this week following China’s decision to deploy the rig off the coast of central Vietnam on May 1.
Vietnamese patrol ships sent to try and disrupt the rig are currently locked in a tense standoff with Chinese ships guarding it.
Anti-China protests that started peacefully have ended in violence and vandalism this week, with 400 factories suspected to have links with China destroyed or damaged by mobs. One Chinese worker was killed and scores more injured at a huge Taiwanese steel mill that was overrun by a 1,000 strong crowd.
“The prime minister requests and calls on every Vietnamese to boost their patriotism to defend the fatherland’s sacred sovereignty with actions in line with the law,” the text message said. “Bad elements should not be allowed to instigate extremist actions that harm the interests and image of the country.”
Vietnam’s authoritarian leaders typically clamp down on public protests of any sort, but have allowed them this time.
The unrest has been subject to a media blackout, but reporters and television stations have been permitted to cover the peaceful protests, a clear sign of state sanction.
The government appears to be trying to harness the nationalist sentiment of its people to send a message of protest to Beijing and garner international sympathy.
Meanwhile, Taiwanese workers told of their fear as they hid from Vietnamese rioters.
The atmosphere remained tense in the southern provinces of Binh Duong and Dong Nai yesterday.
A local Taiwanese Chamber of Commerce official said that more than 500 factories were attacked in Binh Duong alone in the riots earlier in the week.
Leading Taiwanese industrial group Formosa Plastics said on Thursday that Vietnamese workers had “provoked and attacked” Chinese employees at their steel mill in central Ha Tinh province.
A contractor for the company said colleagues had told him that they witnessed dozens of Chinese workers being dragged from a bus and beaten.
“I hid in the dorm during the riots and later sneaked out the steel plant and drove to Hanoi to take the plane home,” said the contractor, Lee Chun-ye, who returned to Taipei on Thursday.
“I was really nervous whenever the traffic slowed down as I was worried that Vietnamese people would attack me in my car,” he said.
A Taiwanese businessman who gave his family name as Chen said some 40 Taiwanese and Chinese managers at his furniture plant in Binh Doung province managed to escape with the help of a Vietnamese supplier, who hid them in his factory.
The Taiwanese Chambers of Commerce in Vietnam said they were advising owners to temporarily close their factories next week to keep workers safe amid fears of fresh violence. — AP / AFP