Vietnamese police restore order at Singapore-run industrial parks

Factories attacked and looted by anti-China protesters

Workers wave Vietnamese national flags during a protest at the industrial zone in Binh Duong province on May 14. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Workers wave Vietnamese national flags during a protest at the industrial zone in Binh Duong province on May 14. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

Vietnamese police rushed to restore order at two Singapore-run industrial parks targeted on Tuesday by anti-China protesters who attacked and looted factories.

"Local police have re-established security control," the Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Park (VSIP) said in a statement yesterday, adding that 99 factories were damaged. The two parks are located in south-eastern Binh Duong province, an hour's drive north of Ho Chi Minh City.

Overnight on Tuesday, some 2,000 policemen were outnumbered by up to 20,000 workers targeting Chinese factories but who also mistakenly attacked Taiwanese-owned ones in the industrial parks, joint ventures between Becamex IDC Corp and a Singapore consortium led by Sembcorp Development. Reports said two Taiwanese were injured in the unrest, sparked by China's recent deployment of an oil rig in waters that Hanoi says belong to Vietnam.

"Police have been deployed to protect Taiwanese factories," Binh Duong's propaganda department chief Vo Minh Giao told The Straits Times yesterday.

Separately, the provincial authorities urged people not to give in to "provocateurs" and vowed to nab the culprits.

Reports said about 500 people had been arrested.

By yesterday afternoon, all gates to the parks were being protected by "hundreds of police", according to Mr Yutaka Murakami, an engineer at a Thai construction firm in one of the parks.

Tuesday's rampage forced many Taiwanese and Chinese support staff to leave the parks, with some flying out of the country.

Anger has been growing in Vietnam since China announced the deployment on May 3 and skirmishes broke out subsequently between Vietnamese and Chinese ships in waters near the oil rig.

At the weekend, Vietnam allowed rallies to be held in major cities against what state media calls the "Chinese incursion".

"I felt anti-Chinese sentiment all around as I talked to locals at the weekend," a Singaporean executive visiting Ho Chi Minh City said in an e-mail. "I have been advised not to speak Mandarin. All events in the city like (yesterday's) Hong Kong business group meeting have been cancelled."

In Dong Nai, east of Ho Chi Minh City, a Vietnamese woman who works for a Taiwanese shoe company told The Straits Times her employer closed its four factories after protesters tried to smash its gates. Some 1,000 protesters were on motorcycles and waving Vietnamese flags.

"People can't tell the difference between Taiwanese and Chinese," said the woman, who did not want to be named.

Singapore and Taiwan have summoned Vietnam's ambassadors over the incidents.

Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it registered "serious concerns about… the attacks on foreign companies in the two industrial parks". It also called for order to be restored before the situation worsened and investor confidence was undermined.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying yesterday accused Vietnam of deliberately staging incidents at sea for the media. She also said Vietnamese ships rammed Chinese vessels 169 times yesterday alone.

Sembcorp said in a statement that over 200 people had been evacuated from the parks, adding that it was working closely with VSIP to continue to provide assistance to affected tenants.

Additional reporting by Kor Kian Beng in Beijing