The government has to be worried that the next target won’t be a Chinese drillship writes Khanh Vu Duc for Asia Sentinel. 

It was a little more than two weeks ago when Chinese state-owned corporation CNOOC moved an oil rig into contested waters off the Vietnamese coast for “exploratory work” at the behest of Beijing.

Not surprisingly, Hanoi was less than receptive to the oil rig’s new home, which it pointed out was located within Vietnam’s 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone. A wave of anti-China sentiment spread across the country that saw riots take place in Vietnam’s industrial parks outside the former city of Saigon and Ha Tinh province, which left two Chinese workers dead and hundreds wounded. Other firsthand and eyewitness accounts place those killed between 13 and 21, and mostly Chinese.

In a country and with a government that prohibits such outright disobedience, Hanoi was curiously quiet on the matter, at least at first.

Vietnam China Anger

Vietnamese protesters hold banners during a protest rally against China outside the Chinese Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Saturday, May 10, 2014. Pic: AP.

It must first be said that the violence that had seized Vietnam was soon extinguished, if only to preserve investor confidence. Although rioters largely targeted Chinese-owned firms, foreign firms such as those from Taiwan and Singapore were also caught in the crossfire, forcing in particular Taiwanese workers to join Chinese residents in their exodus.

The Vietnamese government has since stated that it will investigate the riots and provide relief to damaged businesses. However, matters remain complicated and volatile given that the oil rig in question remains in place and will unlikely go anywhere, at least until August when exploratory work is expected to be completed.

For China, given the temporary presence of the oil rig, the move might have been nothing more than a probe to gauge the reaction of Vietnam and the international community. Emboldened perhaps by Russia’s effortless annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, Beijing sought to (and quite literally) test the waters with its claim over the South China Sea.

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