Bangkok: The dangerous stand-off over an oil rig in a disputed area of the South China Sea has pushed Vietnamese authorities to crack down on fierce anti-China protests and forcibly break up small demonstrations in two cities.
Witnesses in southern Ho Chi Minh City said police dragged away several demonstrators from a park in the city centre.
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Ships are sent to evacuate Chinese nationals from Vietnam after deadly riots erupt over oil drilling in a disputed area of the South China Sea.
Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung ordered an end to all “illegal protests” amid expectations of more anti-China unrest in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, as Vietnam and China feuded over the placement over a $US1 billion ($1.06 billion) Chinese oil rig in the South China Sea.
China, meanwhile, had evacuated more than 3000 of its nationals via flights and was sending five ships to evacuate more, the state-run Xinhua news service reported on Sunday.
It was not immediately clear if Vietnam would allow the Chinese rescue ships to dock, given continuing skirmishes between the two countries.
The crackdown and pledge of a wider Chinese evacuation followed earlier calls by Vietnamese civil society groups for peaceful demonstrations against China after riots the week before left two Chinese workers dead and more than 100 injured.
Even as China and Vietnam took steps to protect life and property in Vietnam, there was little sign of the latest China-Vietnam territorial feud ending.
China was reportedly enforcing a 10-kilometre security perimeter around its oil rig, parked provocatively inside Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone, as Hanoi sent more warships to the area.
Mr Nguyen sent a text message to millions of Vietnamese on Saturday warning that authorities had been ordered to “conduct concerted and determined measures not to allow illegal protests that cause security and social disorder disturbances”.
Officials in Hanoi said those involved in violence would be prosecuted. The violence had damaged investor confidence and spooked the government, which kept a tight grip on society.
“They have seriously undermined the country’s image, and such action has to be punished,” said Hoang Cong Tu, a general who headed investigations at Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security.
The arrival of the first deep-sea rig built by China’s state-run oil industry on May 1 off the Paracel Islands angered Vietnam, which dispatched Coast Guard vessels to the area, where Chinese and Vietnamese ships had since rammed each other hundreds of times.
An armada of Chinese ships, including navy warships, patrolled inside and outside the 10-kilometre zone while a smaller flotilla of Vietnamese ships tried to push past them.
As Chinese helicopters flew routinely overhead, Vietnam had three or four warships on the way to the area, the New York Times reported. Both countries had vowed not to withdraw.
Anti-Chinese sentiment soared across Vietnam last week when the government in Hanoi held meetings in auditoriums where officials denounced China’s towing of the rig into waters claimed by Vietnam. Vietnam’s media had been filled with condemnation of China.
Mr Nguyen's text message on Saturday appeared to represent a shift in government policy, after on Thursday sending a message calling for heightened patriotism.
Vietnam and China share close economic ties with US$50 billion worth of trade last year but, with diplomatic relations strained, Hanoi has been left with some hard choices.
Ignoring China’s aggressive act could stoke anger at home while taking on China in a military battle it could not win would jeopardise investment in the country.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, but there are overlapping claims from Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and the Philippines.
with AFP, AP, MCT