Hanoi ( AsiaNews/Agencies) - The violence that has erupted in Vietnam over Beijing's "imperialism" in the seas has claimed its first victims. The death toll is rising with every passing hour.
Medical sourced reporting that at least 16 Chinese and five Vietnamese people were killed in a riot that broke out in a steel plant owned by Taiwan in central Vietnam; at least a hundred were reported injured but the numbers are still uncertain. This latest round of violence has been sparked by China's decision in early May to build a platform for oil exploration off the east coast of Vietnam, followed by the dispatch of naval ships, fighter planes and helicopters to patrol the area . A move that has exacerbated the inherent nationalism of a large portion of the Vietnamese population. A series of large protests have ensued with many turning into violent riots and assaults.
The overnight assault on the nation's leading steel plant has so far left 20 people dead. But the protests are spreading from the south to the whole nation. Medical sources at a hospital in the central province of Ha Tinh, 250 kilometers south of Hanoi, report that five Vietnamese workers and 16 "of Chinese appearance" have died in the clashes. "There are at least a hundred people in the hospital since last night", confirms a doctor, "others have been coming to the hospital since the early hours of this morning".
Meanwhile, hundreds of Chinese have left Vietnam, by plane or overland across the border with Cambodia. The Chinese Ministry for Tourism has issued an alert to fellow citizens, inviting them to "seriously" consider any trip to the neighboring nation and one time close ally. A similar warning was circulated by the Government of Hong Kong and the Department of Immigration says it has received at least three requests for help from Hong Kong citizens currently in Vietnam.
According to Taiwanese media at least a thousand people attacked the night the steel plant, owned by the Formosa Plastics Group, Taiwan 's most important investor in Vietnam. Once completed, in 2020, it will be the largest plant in the whole of South -East Asia. It will include a port and a power plant, for a total cost of 20 billion dollars. While wanting to target Chinese "symbols" and "interests" in Vietnam, in response to Beijing's aggressive policies in the Asia-Pacific region, in reality the weight of violence waged by local nationalists is targeting Taiwan business, mistaken with those of Chinese mainland .
Since last weekend, which marked the beginning of the anti-Chinese protests, police have arrested at least 700 people, but at least 20 thousand protesters have been involved - for various reasons - in attacks on foreign factories in the past few days.
Vietnam is not alone in its concerns. The Philippines too has been increasingly worried about Beijing's imperialism in the South China and East China seas. The Chinese government claims most of the sea (almost 85 per cent), including sovereignty over the disputed Spratly and Paracel islands, in opposition to Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia. In recent months, China has used various political, economic and diplomatic means to hamper non-Chinese vessels from fishing or moving through the disputed waters. For the United States, which backs the claims of Southeast Asia nations, Beijing's so-called 'cow tongue' line is both "illegal" and "irrational". Anyone with a hegemonic sway over the region would have a strategic advantage, in terms of seabed (oil and gas) development, but also in trade since two thirds of the world's maritime trade transit through it.