Anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam have turned deadly. At least five Vietnamese workers and 16 others have been killed within the past day in an eruption of tensions in the region.
The riots began as peaceful demonstrations over the weekend that were encouraged by the Vietnamese government. Vietnamese were protesting China’s decision to build an oil rig in disputed maritime territory west of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. China controls the islands — but they are claimed by Vietnam, as they fall within the country’s exclusive maritime economic zone.
Rioters have burned and looted a number of factories in South Vietnam believing that they were Chinese, although many were actually Taiwanese or South Korean owned. So far, about 400 rioters have been detained by police.
Thousands of Chinese and Taiwanese have fled Vietnam so far. And Cambodian police report that at least 600 Chinese business people and tourists have fled across the border into Cambodia to escape possible violence.
The Chinese oil rig has brought anti-Chinese feelings, long dormant, to the surface. Many Vietnamese still harbor anger toward China after the two countries fought a border war in 1979 that killed thousands. The two countries again fought a brief skirmish in 1988 over the Spratly Islands in which at least 70 Vietnamese sailors were killed.
China has become increasingly aggressive recently, as it seeks to expand its influence beyond its accepted borders and into the South China Sea. The Philippines have claimed China is building a possible airstrip on a disputed reef, and Vietnamese and Philippine ships have clashed with Chinese vessels in the past.
The United States has called Chinese action in the Sea “provocative.” The Philippines have offered the U.S. a naval base on one of its western islands in an attempt to counteract Chinese actions in the region.
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