Big clean-up in Vietnam's industrial parks after riots

More than 500 people rounded up over rampage

WORKERS armed with brooms and driving fork lifts are busy cleaning up dozens of offices and factories in two Vietnam-Singapore industrial parks (VSIPs) about an hour north of Ho Chi Minh City, after anti-China crowds rampaged through them.

The smell of smoke hung in the air at factories partially burnt after they were torched by the crowd, which indiscriminately targeted businesses with Chinese names on Tuesday evening. Shattered glass carpeted offices and forecourts. Computers lay smashed in parking lots. At one factory, two vehicles had been overturned and gutted by fire.

Almost every factory has hung banners over its gate and walls supporting Vietnam's sovereignty claim over islands in the South China Sea, where China's placement of an oil rig on May 2 sparked anger in Vietnam and skirmishes at sea between Chinese and Vietnamese Coast Guard vessels.

Japanese, South Korean, German and Swiss investors are among the non-Chinese who have taken pains to display their national flags to distance themselves from the mob's Chinese targets. Taiwanese investors, who bore the brunt of the rampage, have hung similar banners supporting Vietnam's claims to sovereignty over the waters contested by China.

Factories not in the VSIPs or related to them were also targeted. At these locations, workers were slowly trickling back to their jobs after fleeing them on Tuesday. In Dong Nai province, Mr Chen Di, a 36-year-old from China who has worked for an American-owned furniture maker for more than a year, returned to work with eight other Chinese and two Taiwanese colleagues. The small group, a minority among 300 Vietnamese workers at the factory, had been put up at a Ho Chi Minh City hotel by their bosses since Wednesday to escape the anti-China violence. 

Around 80 per cent of the factories in the industrial zone where he worked had been burned or damaged, Mr Chen told The Straits Times.

"But now it is quiet. There are a lot of police outside but no demonstrators," he said. "We are friendly with the Vietnamese workers, we usually eat and drink beer together. If the mob had attacked our factory, I think the Vietnamese workers would have hidden us or tried to keep us out of harm's way."

There was no visible police presence at the two VSIPs - joint ventures between Becamex IDC and a Singapore consortium led by Sembcorp Development - hit by Tuesday's unprecedented rampage. 

Taiwanese Vice-Premier Mao Chi-kuo said Taiwan will seek compensation from Vietnam for losses caused to Taiwanese businesses and individuals.

The Vietnamese authorities, scrambling to reassert their authority after being taken by surprise and overwhelmed by the riots, have arrested more than 500 people over the violence on Tuesday and Wednesday. Local media reports said police were cracking down on  the riots' organisers, but fears remain of more protests over the weekend.

In an unprecedented move, the country's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung sent a text message to millions of subscribers to state-owned mobile phone services, supporting the nationalist sentiment but adding: "Bad elements should not be allowed to instigate extremist actions that harm the interests and image of the country."

At the VSIPs, most factory officials and the handful of security guards seemed still stunned and reluctant to talk. But what emerged from interviews was that two separate crowds of protesters had come to them on Tuesday, both from outside.

The first arrived in the morning, and was  about 1,000-strong and raucous but peaceful; the second which came in the late afternoon was larger, and arrived with the intent to smash and loot. Nobody appears to know yet who they were, where they came from or who organised them.

"These people did not represent the Vietnamese people," said one security guard at the Saigon Glass plant, a Taiwanese firm, which had almost all of its windows smashed and every piece of office equipment trashed. "Normally, there are no issues with Chinese here, they are good people," he said.