More than 20 people have been killed in Vietnam and a huge foreign steel project set ablaze as anti-China riots spread across the country.
Five Vietnamese workers and 16 Chinese were killed on Wednesday as violence flared in one of the worst breakdowns in Sino-Vietnamese relations since the neighbours fought a brief border war in 1979.
Around 100 people, many of them Chinese, were taken to hospital on Wednesday night, according to medical staff.
Vietnam’s 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.
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.
Vietnam’s 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 new 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.
The plant is expected to be south-east 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 £12 billion, is more than half complete. When finished in 2020 it will have a port, a power plant and six furnaces. Such industrial zones are the backbone of Vietnam’s £80bn economy. The country has 190 registered industrial parks employing about 2.1 million people.
China expressed serious concern over the violence in Vietnam and urged it to punish criminals and compensate victims.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying suggested Hanoi had turned a blind eye to the protesters. “The looting and stealing that has taken place at Chinese businesses and to Chinese people has a direct relationship with Vietnam’s winking at and indulging lawbreakers there,” he said.
Although the Communist neighbours have close economic and political ties, Vietnamese resentment against China runs deep, rooted in feelings of national pride and the struggle for independence after decades of war and more than 1,000 years of Chinese colonial rule that ended in the 10th century.
The United States has called on both sides for restraint. Such disputes “need to be resolved through dialogue, not through intimidation,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told a briefing. “We again urge dialogue in their resolution.”
The US State Department said it was monitoring events in Vietnam closely, and urged restraint from all parties.