BEIJING -- China has evacuated more than 3,000 of its citizens from Vietnam because of anti-China rioting there and is sending five ships to evacuate more, state-run Xinhua news service reported Sunday.
It was not immediately clear if Vietnam would allow the Chinese rescue ships to dock, given continuing skirmishes between the two countries over a disputed Chinese oil platform that ignited riots in Vietnam.
The first ship set off from Haikou in China’s southern-most province of Hainan at 8 a.m. Sunday (8 p.m. Saturday EDT), China’s Transport Ministry said in statement. It was expected to reach Vietnam within 18 hours.
China’s Foreign Ministry said that more than 3,000 Chinese nationals had been evacuated as of Saturday afternoon. They returned to China with the assistance of the Chinese Embassy in Vietnam, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Rioters last week torched and damaged at least 15 foreign-owned factories in Vietnam that they apparently thought were owned by China. Some reports claim that scores of factories have been flattened or burned.
Some of the businesses had no connection with China, but the worst hit factory _ an iron and steel complex under construction in Vietnam’s Ha Tinh Province _ had a Chinese subcontractor, the China 19th Metallurgical Corp.; the factory itself is owned by a Taiwanese company, Formosa Plastics Group.
China’s Foreign Ministry said that two Chinese nationals were killed in the violence and more than 100 others injured. It has harshly criticized Vietnam for not taking stronger actions to prevent the riots.
“We are strongly dissatisfied by the Vietnamese side’s failure to respond effectively to curb an escalation,” Xinhua quoted security chief Guo Shengkun as saying on Saturday.
Crowds in Vietnam started protesting and rioting after it was reported last week that China was moving an oil drilling platform, the Haiyang Shiyou 981, into contested waters in the South China Sea, about 140 miles from Vietnam. China and Vietnamese boats rammed each other, with the Chinese reportedly firing water canons. The skirmishes continued through Saturday, according to reports in Vietnamese news media.
Thanh Nien News reported Saturday that the Chinese fleet guarding the oil rig had grown to 130 vessels, and were continuing to launch “attacks” on Vietnamese ships. These included ramming fishing boats and Vietnamese surveillance vessels, according to Thanh Nien.
Vietnam, worried about losing foreign investment, appears to be engaged in stepped-up damage control. Leaders from the three southern Vietnamese provinces have visited damaged factories and pledged to help foreign companies rebuild and restart operations, Thanh Nien reported Sunday. A day earlier, Vietnamese authorities said they would prosecute more than 300 people for looting and arson.
China and Vietnam fought a three-week war in 1979, after more than 200,000 Chinese troops invaded Vietnam as punishment for Hanoi’s invasion and ouster of Chinese ally Pol Pot, leader of the Khmer Rouge. Tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians died on both sides in the fighting, which now rarely is mentioned officially in either country.
Since then, relations between the two communist countries have improved, despite tensions over China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. Now, however, there are fears the oil rig skirmishes could escalate into another war.
Neither side seems to backing down, with Vietnam’s president issuing a blunt statement on Friday.
“China said Vietnam should withdraw,” said Truong Tan Sang in comments reported by the news portal Vietnamnet. “This is my house. Why do I have to withdraw?”