Vietnamese security forces stifled fresh protests yesterday over China’s plans to drill for oil in contested waters, as Beijing sent five ships to help evacuate its nationals from Vietnam following deadly mass riots last week.
China’s state media said more than 3,000 of its citizens had already returned home in recent days after the territorial tensions and riots sent relations between the frequently quarrelsome communist neighbors spiraling to their lowest point in decades.
Enraged mobs torched or otherwise damaged hundreds of foreign-owned businesses last week, killing two Chinese and injuring about 140 people.
While China’s deployment of the giant rig is seen in Vietnam as a grave provocation, the ferocious public reaction appeared to catch authorities by surprise.
Fearing an impact on vital foreign investment, Vietnamese authorities took no chances yesterday as activist groups tried to stage further demonstrations, though they insisted they would be peaceful.
Hundreds of security personnel swarmed over streets leading to the sprawling Chinese embassy in Hanoi, restricting access to the neighborhood and other suspected protest sites.
Blogs by civil society groups involved in the protest call said activists were detained in several areas around the country or prevented from leaving their homes.
Xinhua news agency said the Chinese brought home included 135 people hurt in the unrest on Tuesday and Wednesday, including 16 who were “critically injured.”
China also said it was dispatching five ships to bring home even more of its nationals and would suspend some bilateral exchanges.
The recent violence was “damaging the atmosphere and conditions for exchanges and cooperation,” a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement said.
“The Chinese side as of today ... suspended part of its bilateral exchange plans,” it said, without giving specifics. “China will see how the situation develops and look into taking further steps.”
China had earlier warned its citizens against travel to Vietnam following what it called the “explosion of violence” and has urged its nationals still in the country to increase safety precautions.