Angered anti-China protestors set fire to several Chinese and Taiwanese-owned factories in Vietnam and looted hundreds of others Tuesday night, causing production to be suspended at factories across the country’s Binh Duong province.
The protests are reportedly in response to tensions in the South China Sea spurred by China’s recent placement of an oil rig in disputed waters off Vietnam’s coast.
Nearly 20,000 workers in Binh Duong’s industrial parks took to the streets in protest late Tuesday into Wednesday. Some attacked factories they believed to be Chinese-run but were in fact Taiwanese or South Korean, according to the Associated Press.
By Wednesday morning, factories in the area were closed, looters had made off with valuables like computers and riot police were on alert.
More than 400 people were detained as a result of the violence, and Tran Van Nam, vice chairman of the Bing Duong government, said Chinese, Taiwanese and South Korean factories that hadn’t already been shuttered were asked to do so temporarily for the sake of public order, the AP reported.
According to Vietnam’s VnExpress newspaper, some companies have announced that work is suspended until further notice and factory owners fear delayed orders could lead to contract cancellations.
Taiwanese-owned Yue Yuen, an athletic shoe manufacturer which makes shoes for Nike, Adidas and Reebok, said it had closed its three complexes close to Ho Chi Minh City as a precaution. Company spokesman Jerry Shum told the AP, “We believe that this should be solved very soon, that somehow ultimately it will be up to the government authorities to guide the overall sentiment.”
Yue Yuen also suffered setbacks in production in April when factory workers went on strike over wages and benefits. But government intervention obligating the factory to compensate workers as promised eventually quelled the protests.
Tuesday’s protests in the Binh Duong industrial zone began peacefully but were reportedly hijacked by “extremists” and now the area is in a state of disarray. At least 15 factories were torched and hundreds more vandalized and looted, and media reports noted that most of those involved were in garment and footwear production. Fearful owners of foreign-owned factories are displaying signs on factory fences that read, “We love Vietnam.”
China and Vietnam are still in a standoff over the oil rig placement and Vietnam has sent ships to confront the rig and Chinese vessels are there protecting it, AP reported. So far, China has shown no signs of backing down.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, “We urge Vietnam to stop all provocative actions, come to their senses, and stop all acts intended to create disturbances.”
According to some estimates, hundreds of factories may have to be closed for weeks or even months. And while the industry damage has yet to be fully assessed, one official from a leading Korean company in Binh Duong says it could reach tens of billions of dong and the lives of Vietnamese workers will surely be adversely affected.