Updated at 7:00 p.m. ET on 2014-05-15
Up to two Chinese workers have been killed and more than 100 injured in Vietnam as anti-China riots over a territorial dispute spread, the governments of the two countries said Thursday, though reports indicated the death toll was much higher.
A doctor at a hospital in central Vietnam’s Ha Tinh province, where violence spread Wednesday following arson and looting at industrial parks outside Ho Chi Minh City in the south, said up to 21 people were killed—five of them Vietnamese workers and 16 other people described as Chinese, according to Reuters news agency.
The deaths occurred Wednesday night after some 1,000 workers at the Vung Ang Economic Zone in the province’s Ky Anh district took to the streets to protest Beijing’s deployment of a giant oil rig off the coast of Vietnam in waters claimed by both countries.
The protest turned violent that evening as clashes broke out between Chinese and Vietnamese workers near a giant Taiwanese-owned steel plant, which was torched by a mob.
Vietnam’s foreign ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh told reporters Thursday there was “no evidence” to confirm 21 deaths, but confirmed reports that one person had died in clashes between Chinese and Vietnamese workers.
“According to authorities in Ha Tinh, a man was killed after two groups of workers were involved in a conflict,” he said at a press conference in Hanoi, according to reports in local media.
Plant owner Formosa Plastics Group of Taiwan, which is one of Vietnam’s biggest investors, said one of the company’s Chinese workers was killed and 90 people were injured after hundreds of its Vietnamese workers provoked their Chinese colleagues and attacked them.
Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported two Chinese nationals were killed and more than 100 of them were hospitalized.
Vice Chairman of Ha Tinh Provincial People's Committee Dang Quoc Khanh said police had arrested 76 people after one person was killed and 149 were injured, according to reports.
An official in Ky Anh district speaking to RFA on condition of anonymity confirmed multiple deaths, saying they were all of Chinese workers.
“Only Chinese died, no Vietnamese died,” the source told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
“The situation is stable. Things now are stable,” he said.
A worker who witnessed the protests said he had heard of many deaths in the clashes, but that the situation had been brought under control by Thursday.
“By the time I went out, everything had been brought under control. There were a lot of policemen,” said the worker, who gave only a single name Lan.
“One person died [Wednesday] afternoon but by that night, when I went to the company, the number of deaths had increased a lot. I don’t know the exact number but many are being treated at the Ha Tinh hospital.”
In the wake of the violence Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung called on police and local authorities Thursday to restore order and ensure the safety of people and property, as China’s foreign ministry expressed concern about the safety of its citizens in Vietnam.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Beijing was “deeply shocked” by violence against its workers in Vietnam.
Tensions over the oil rig Beijing deployed on May 1 near the disputed Paracel Islands are the worst breakdowns in Sino-Vietnamese relations since the neighbors fought a brief border war in 1979, as patrol vessels from the two countries near the rig collided and used water cannon against each other in recent days.
Meanwhile in Vietnam’s neighboring Cambodia, an association representing the Vietnamese community planned to hold its own anti-China demonstrations but was refused permission by the authorities.
The Vietnamese Association, which has some 5,000 members, said it had aimed to stage a demonstration at the Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh.
Cambodia’s Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak said the group had been denied permission because Cambodia was “neutral” and would not “allow any foreigners to use our land against Vietnam or China.”
Reported by Mac Lam for RFA's Vietnamese Service and by the Khmer Service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.