|Protesters with Vietnamese flags try to push down the gate of a factory in Bien Hoa, Dong Nai province, as anti-China demonstrations spread to 22 provinces on Thursday. (AFP)
Hanoi, May 15 (Reuters): Up to 21 people were killed in Vietnam, a doctor said today, and a huge foreign steel project was set ablaze as anti-China riots spread to the centre of the country a day after arson and looting in the south.
The doctor at a hospital in central Ha Tinh province said five Vietnamese workers and 16 other people described as Chinese were killed on Wednesday night in rioting, one of the worst breakdowns in Sino-Vietnamese relations since the neighbours fought a brief border war in 1979.
“There were about a hundred people sent to the hospital last night. Many were Chinese. More are being sent to the hospital this morning,” the doctor at Ha Tinh General Hospital told Reuters by phone.
Foreign ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh confirmed one death in the clashes, and described media reports and accounts on social networking sites of higher casualties as “groundless”.
China’s state news agency Xinhua reported that at least two Chinese nationals had died and more than 100 were hospitalised.
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung called on police and state and local authorities to restore order and ensure the safety of people and property in the affected areas.
“Appropriate measures should be taken immediately to help businesses stabilise quickly and return to normal production activities,” he said in a statement, without elaborating.
The planning and investment ministry blamed the clashes on “extremists” and warned that they could seriously affect the investment environment in Vietnam. Formosa Plastics Group, Taiwan’s biggest investor in Vietnam, said its upcoming steel plant in Ha Tinh was set on fire after fighting between its Vietnamese and Chinese workers. One Chinese worker was killed and 90 others injured, it said in a statement in Taipei.
It was not immediately clear if the casualties were among those admitted to the Ha Tinh hospital.
The plant is expected to be southeast Asia’s largest steel making facility when it is completed in 2017.
No details of fire damage or financial losses were immediately available, the company said.
The Ha Tinh industrial park, estimated to cost more than $20 billion, is more than half complete. When finished in 2020, it will have a port, a 2,100-MW power plant and six furnaces, Vietnamese media say.
Such industrial zones are the backbone of Vietnam’s $138 billion economy. The country has 190 registered industrial parks employing about 2.1 million people. They manufactured products worth $38 billion in exports last year, or 30 per cent of Vietnam’s total export revenue.
The anti-China riots erupted in industrial zones in the south of the country on Tuesday after protests against Beijing placing an oil rig in a part of the South China Sea claimed by Hanoi.
The brunt of the violence has been borne by Taiwanese firms, mistaken by the rioters as being owned by mainland Chinese.
China expressed serious concern over the violence in Vietnam and urged it to punish criminals and compensate victims.