HANOI, Vietnam – Vietnamese authorities forcibly broke up small protests against China in two cities today, after deadly anti-China rampages over a simmering territorial dispute risked damaging the economy and spooked a state used to keeping a tight grip on its people.
In southern Ho Chi Minh City, police dragged away several demonstrators from a park in the city center. In Hanoi, authorities closed off streets and a park close to the Chinese Embassy and pushed journalists and protesters away. Police were posted outside well-known dissidents’ houses, preventing them from leaving, according to activists.
China, meanwhile, dispatched the first of five ships to Vietnam to speed up the evacuation of its citizens. More than 3,000 Chinese have already been pulled out from Vietnam following the riots this past week that left two Chinese dead and injured about 100 others, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
China deployed an oil rig to a disputed patch of the South China Sea on May 1, triggering fury in Vietnam. Hanoi sent ships to confront the rig in a tense standoff with Chinese vessels and has tried to rally international support against China, which claims most of the South China Sea.
Last weekend, Vietnam allowed anti-China protests that drew thousands of people, a rare step widely seen as a way of amplifying state anger against Beijing. Doing so was risky for authorities: dissident groups joined in the protests, and public anger was such that violence was a possibility.
By Tuesday and Wednesday, the protests had morphed into riots targeting factories believed to be owned by Chinese companies. Many of those hit were Taiwanese. The violence caused a concern among foreign investors who have turned Vietnam into a manufacturing hub in recent years.
China has loudly demanded Vietnam protect Chinese people inside the country. Many Chinese were fleeing by commercial flights and across the land border into Cambodia, although violence has stopped since Wednesday.
Vietnam’s government on Saturday said further protests would not be allowed.
“I want to send a message that if we don’t stop China today, tomorrow it will be too late,” said demonstrator Dao Minh Chu, as he was pushed away from the park near China’s embassy, where last week around 500 gathered without interference from authorities.