Vietnam calm as US cautions China

May 17, 2014 - 12:00:00 am

HANOI/WASHINGTON: Anti-China violence subsided in Vietnam yesterday after the prime minister called for calm, but the United States said China’s “provocative” actions in maritime disputes were dangerous and had to stop.

Thousands of people attacked businesses and factories in Vietnam’s industrial parks earlier in the week, targeting

Chinese workers and Chinese-owned businesses after Beijing parked an oil rig in a part of the South China Sea claimed by

Hanoi. Many Taiwanese-owned firms bore the brunt because the crowds believed they were owned by mainland Chinese.

The riots risk derailing a major driver of the country’s economic growth - industrial parks account for more than 30 percent of Vietnam’s exports and have attracted around $110bn in foreign direct investment.

The Vietnamese government has said one person was killed in the rioting on Tuesday and Wednesday night, but a doctor at a hospital near one area of clashes said he had seen 21 bodies and that at least 100 people were wounded.

An eyewitness to fighting between Chinese and Vietnamese workers in an industrial zone in the same area said she had seen at least 13 bodies.

There were no reports of fresh violence yesterday.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has called on police and state and local authorities to restore order and ensure the safety of people and property in the affected areas.

“Prime Minister asked and called every Vietnam citizen to promote patriotism and protect the fatherland’s sacred sovereignty by practical activities following the law,” said a text message sent to mobile phone subscribers.

It is the worst breakdown in ties between China and Vietnam since the two Communist neighbours fought a brief but bloody border war in 1979.

In Washington, a senior US official said China’s relations with its neighbours were straining ties with the United States, raising questions over how the world’s two biggest economies can work together.

“This is raising some fundamental questions for us about China’s long-term strategic intentions,” the US official said speaking on condition of anonymity. He said Beijing’s moves appeared to fit a ‘pattern’ of advancing territorial claims through coercion and intimidation.

“China’s activities are straining the US-China relationship because it raises questions about our ability to partner together in Asia or even bilaterally.”

The Philippines, one of Washington’s closest allies in Asia, has said China is reclaiming land on a reef in the oil- and gas-rich South China Sea that both countries claim, and is building what appears to be an airstrip on it. It has offered the United States the use of an underdeveloped naval base on a nearby island to ensure US warships can enter the vicinity.

Vice President Joe Biden and other top US officials told visiting General Fang Fenghui, chief of general staff in China’s army, that Beijing’s behaviour in the maritime disputes was “dangerous and provocative” and must stop, the official said.

“A series of mistaken American statements have emboldened some countries’ dangerous and provocative actions,” China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular briefing in Beijing, urging Washington to be more responsible with its words and actions.

The renewed tensions in the South China Sea underscore one of the biggest challenges in Asia facing President Barack Obama, who is under pressure by America’s allies to accelerate a “pivot” of military assets to the region to counter China’s rising influence.

The crisis has erupted after a week-long visit to Asia by Obama in late April in which he pledged that Washington would live up to its obligation to defend its allies in the region.                           Reuters