Near the Paracel Islands, a Chinese rig is preparing to drill for oil. In Vietnam, protestors burned Chinese-owned factories in response, claiming the Chinese are in Vietnamese waters. In the Philippines, police threw Chinese fishermen in jail for poaching endangered turtles in Philippine territory. And on Johnson South Reef, a remote atoll in the South China Sea, China may be building an air strip.On Wednesday, the Chinese foreign ministry confirmed that construction on the reef is underway. Manila had long suspected it. The “reef is Chinese territory,” a Chinese spokesman said. She declined to say what, exactly, China is building.Meanwhile in Vietnam, the anger against China has led to violence. Almost two dozen people, most of whom are “described as Chinese,” were killed in riots on Wednesday night. The WSJ reports:
“We have arrested nearly 500 people for stealing properties from factories, looting and setting fire to the factories in the province last night,” said Le Xuan Truong, chief of the secretariat of the police department of Binh Duong province, an industrial hub of Vietnam. […]Many of the factories were actually Taiwanese owned, highlighting Taiwan’s incidental role in the dispute between Vietnam and China over the stationing of a large Chinese oil rig in the contested waters of the South China Sea—a standoff that doesn’t involve Taipei. […]“The preliminary estimate is at least 200 plants have been looted or burned down,” said Taiwan’s representative to Vietnam, Chen Bor-show, the director-general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Ho Chi Minh City.
The riots followed a number of “noisy” demonstrations against China in several areas of Vietnam in the past few days. Several hundred people chanted slogans and raised anti-China signs outside the Chinese embassy in Hanoi; over a thousand took part in a rally in Ho Chi Minh City. Similar demonstrations occurred in other parts of the country. The Vietnamese authorities, who typically keep a tight lid on any sort of unrest, allowed these protests to take place; the media, normally kept on a tight leash, reported the stories enthusiastically.China, it seems, has started to play a more aggressive game in the South China Sea since President Obama’s high-profile trip to the region. Secretary Kerry was moved to say as much, calling the Chinese foreign minister to say that Beijing’s actions were “provocative.” For its part, Beijing blamed the whole thing on the U.S. and ordered the Chinese media to keep silent about what’s going on.Things are really heating up in the South China Sea.