Bangkok: Anti-Chinese rioters have torched and looted about 10 factories in southern Vietnam in the most serious outbreak of public disorder in the tightly-controlled country in years.
Up to 20,000 people have been protesting over China’s deployment of an oil rig in waters of the South China Sea that Vietnam claims as its own.
Associated Press reports the rioters attacked factories in a Singapore-run industrial park they believed to be Chinese but which were mainly Taiwanese-owned.
Analysts say the communist government in Hanoi gave rare sanction to street protests as a way of amplifying its anger at Beijing over the oil rig that arrived on May 1 close to the Paracel islands.
Vietnamese authorities usually crack down hard on any form of public protest.
Amid already high tensions over territorial disputes in the South China Sea, the Philippines on Wednesday accused China of reclaiming land on a reef in the region, apparently to build an airstrip.
Philippines foreign ministry spokesman Charles Jose told Reuters that China had been moving earth and materials to Johnson South Reef, known by the Chinese as Chigua, a violation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, an informal code of conduct in the region.
“They’re about to build an airstrip,” Mr Jose said, referring to aerial photographs taken by the Philippines navy.
If confirmed, the airstrip would be the first built by China on any of eight reefs and islands it occupies in the area of the South China Sea known as the Spratly Islands.
The Philippines has lodged a protest over the Chinese activity and raised the issue behind closed doors at a summit of the Association of South East Asia Nations in Myanmar last weekend.
China and Vietnam fought a brief naval battle over Johnson South Reef in 1988 in which about 90 Vietnamese were killed.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, an area rich in energy deposits and an important route for cargo ships.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims on the area.
China and the United States have been exchanging heated words over tensions between Beijing and its neighbours over the South China Sea.
China hit back at US Secretary of State John Kerry, who reportedly told Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in a telephone call that Chinese moves in the waters were “provocative".
The State Department confirmed that Mr Kerry urged both sides to de-escalate tensions, ensure safe conduct of vessels at sea and resolve the dispute through peaceful means in accordance with international law.
But the Chinese foreign ministry said Mr Wang urged Mr Kerry to “act and speak cautiously".
China has long insisted the disputes should be resolved by direct talks between those involved and has bristled at what it sees as US interference.
It has criticised the US’s so-called “pivot” back to Asia, especially Washington’s efforts to boost existing military links with Tokyo and Manila.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday issued a statement saying Australia shares serious concern over recent developments in the South China Sea “which have served to raise tensions in the region".
“Australia urges all parties to exercise restraint, refrain from provocative actions that could escalate the situation and take steps to ease tensions,” the statement said.
It said Australia "does not take a position on competing claims in the South China Sea".
with Reuters, AP