Media sources claim that Chinese troops are massing on the border with Vietnam, ostensibly in reaction to the ongoing anti-China unrest there. According to Hong Kong’s Sing Tao Daily, which is generally considered to be close to the Chinese government-run media: “A large number of People’s Liberation Army troops have reportedly been spotted heading towards the China-Vietnam border as tensions between the two countries continue to escalate.” Other outlets have also picked up the story, but the reports have yet to be confirmed.
Meanwhile, China is evacuating its citizens from Vietnam. The Guardian reports:
The passenger ship Wuzhishan left the central Vietnamese port of Vung Ang with 989 evacuees on board, China’s official news agency Xinhua reported. It was the first of four Chinese ships, each with a capacity of about 1,000, sent to Vietnam, Xinhua said, with a further two on standby.
Riots swept through Vietnam last week as thousands of people protested against symbols of China—factories, industrial parks, embassies, people who looked Chinese. The unrest began when Chinese and Vietnamese ships confronted each other near a Chinese oil rig in the South China Sea; both countries claim the area along with the oil and gas under the sea floor. “Long live Vietnam!” and “The Paracels and Spratlys belong to Vietnam,” were two common chants heard at protests in Vietnam’s largest cities.
The protests continued over the weekend but appear to be petering out as of Monday. “On Sunday in Ho Chi Minh City, police carried away some protesters among the hundreds who had gathered at the city’s Notre Dame cathedral,” the WSJ reports. “In Hanoi, hundreds of uniformed policemen and others in plainclothes dispersed a group of about 100 people gathering at a park near China’s embassy, as police with loudspeakers ordered people to leave the area.” The Vietnamese government, which at first allowed small-scale “patriotic” protests to go ahead, is now trying to regain control of the situation, lest foreign investors (including China) become worried about an unstable situation.
Indeed, Vietnamese and Chinese commentators warned of lasting economic damage if security is not restored and if the Vietnamese authorities don’t do enough to restore China’s confidence in its smaller southern neighbor. “The Vietnamese government will do the best we can to help companies resume normal production as soon as possible,” reads a statement from Vietnam’s economic and cultural representative office in Taiwan. Unfortunately, Vietnam probably can’t have it both ways. Hanoi will have to choose between letting the conflict fade away or fighting for its territorial ambitions in the South China Sea at the risk of angering the Chinese government and foreign businesses that have found Vietnam to be a profitable home. Hanoi’s choice will have an impact on future South China Sea disputes between China and its other neighbors. Next up? The Philippines.