A firefighter runs as Taiwanese bicycle factory burns in Di An Town, Binh Duong province, Wednesday. Pic: AP.

Reports are emerging in Vietnam of a number of people killed and injured in yesterday’s riots against Chinese factories and workers.  While solid numbers are hard to find, some initial reports  put the number of those killed as high as 21, with over 100 more injured in the recent outbreak of violence.

Some of the factories targeted were Taiwanese and South Korean, though it is not yet clear whether the Vietnamese rioters did not understand the difference between China and Taiwan, or simply did not care.  A high ranking Taiwanese diplomat said that during one of the attacks, on Formosa Steel, a Taiwanese steel mill in central Vietnam, at least one worker was killed and 90 more were injured.

However, doctors at a hospital nearby where the riots happened say they saw five dead Vietnamese and 16 other bodies which they described as being of Chinese origin. Doctors say that injured people have continued to stream into the hospital throughout today.

Tensions between Vietnam and China have been growing to a fever pitch ever since the Chinese took the provocative action of placing an oil rig in disputed waters in the South China Sea, known in Vietnam as the East Sea. Please see here for my in-depth look at the recent events surrounding the oil rig controversy.

A violent week
Over the past week, numerous foreign owned factories were targeted for looting and burning by Vietnamese demonstrators. Until yesterday, although increasingly destructive to property, no deaths had been reported.

Tuesday saw over 20,000 protestors outside of factories that they believed to be owned by Chinese. Although peaceful at first, the protests quickly turned violent and over 15 factories were burned and looted.  The majority of the violence has centered on industrial zones in the provinces of Binh Duong and Dong Nai, located near Ho Chi Minh City.

Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou has issued a formal request to Vietnam’s government asking it to do more to protect Taiwanese citizens in Vietnam. The Taiwanese government has also warned its citizens to avoid going to Binh Duong and Dong Nai provinces unless absolutely necessary.

The Chinese government has condemned the recent protests and attacks, saying the recent events represented “the most stunning attack [on] foreign businesses in East Asia in recent years.”  However, this statement might be construed as somewhat hypocritical since China has in the past allowed similar violent protests against the Japan.

Both Vietnam and China appear to be making attempts to censor coverage of the recent violence. For the Chinese, this action may represent a worry over the possibility of revenge protests against Vietnamese occurring.

On the ground in Vietnam
Here in Hanoi, it is difficult to go anywhere and not hear people discussing the recent actions of China and the Vietnamese people’s response. While many people are not directly impacted by the events, there is a strong feeling of patriotism that runs through all classes, from the lowliest street food hawker to the highest ranking businessmen.

In recent days this correspondent has been told, by otherwise calm and collected locals, that they feel a strong hatred towards the Chinese. Although, when they were asked what specifically should be done to counter China, they were often at a loss for an answer other than “protesting strongly” against the Chinese actions.

There are also rumors that the Vietnamese government might be directing the protests and attacks, or at the very least, to be giving its tacit approval to the actions.  Stories mentioning this angle on the recent events have been taken down from local online news sources.

On Thursday afternoon Agence France Press tweeted that China openly accused the Vietnamese government of “connivance” with rioters.

However, there now appears to be a growing number of people who are coming together to organize a boycott of Chinese goods. It is not clear how feasible this actually would be, given the sheer amount of Chinese goods that have flooded into the country in recent years. But the intention is clear, and more and more Vietnamese seem to be feeling that they need to do something to show how they feel about China’s actions.