Hundreds of Chinese nationals in Vietnam are fleeing home or to neighboring countries following anti-China riots by Vietnamese workers angry over Beijing’s deployment of an oil rig in disputed waters, according to sources.
Plane ticket prices from Vietnam to China have gone through the roof, sources said, with many Chinese flying home and some taking refuge in Cambodia and other nearby countries after the riots turned deadly on Wednesday with reports of up to 21 people killed.
Beijing has advised Chinese tourists against traveling to Vietnam, as diplomatic tensions with Hanoi reached their highest since a border war in 1979.
Cambodia’s Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Thursday that at least 600 Chinese investors and tourists have fled the violence into the country since Tuesday, when rioters began setting fire to foreign-owned industrial parks in southern Vietnam.
“They fled to Cambodia to avoid confrontations in Vietnam,” he said. “They come here as tourists and they will stay here temporarily.”
Many of them were staying at hotels in Phnom Penh and Bavet, a border town an hour and a half’s drive from Ho Chi Minh City.
Large groups of Chinese were also reported to be arriving at Ho Chi Minh City on Thursday, and standing in line for tickets out to Malaysia, Cambodia, Taiwan, Singapore, and China.
A Chinese resident of Ho Chi Minh City surnamed Zhu said he had been phoning around for airline tickets and found the prices had risen.
"I just called Eastern Airlines, which wasn't too bad, around 2,000 yuan (U.S.$321), but Southern Airlines wanted 4,000-5,000 yuan (U.S.$642-802) [to get back to China]," he said.
"A lot of people are going to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, or changing planes in Malaysia," he said. "The main thing is that the flights are too expensive."
"I heard that some tickets that used to cost 2,000 yuan are now selling for as much as 6,000 yuan."
A Chinese-Vietnamese interpreter surnamed Zhang said some tickets had changed hands for as much as 8,000 yuan (U.S. $1,284), however.
"I can often get a flight for 1,300 yuan (U.S. $200) or 1,400 yuan or thereabouts," Zhang said after arriving home in China in the wake of the riots. "The airlines have gone crazy, at a time when they should be sending planes to fetch us."
"They shouldn't allow the prices to get so high that people have no way to get home."
He said rumors of further major anti-Chinese protests planned for the weekend had prompted him and his group to leave.
A youth travel agency in southern China said some students on trips to Vietnam had flown back home or to Thailand, Hong Kong, and Laos, while others found themselves stuck.
"A lot of students have been forced to rush back here," the employee at the China Youth Travel Service office in Guangzhou said. "Some of them are still holed up in their hotels, and they can't get out."
But not many of those who had booked future trips to Vietnam had cancelled them, as many people in China appeared not to know about the riots amid a news blackout.
"This isn't in the news in mainland China," she said. "We only know about it because our friends overseas told us."
"This news is being censored in China."
"We are still getting bookings, because customers haven't seen the news," she said. "Only we know, and we are telling customers wanting to go to Vietnam that they shouldn't go there for the time being."
The rioting was directed at Chinese working in Vietnam’s industrial zones, but companies from Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore have also been affected, with their facilities burned and ransacked.
Taiwan's China Airlines was adding two additional charter flights from Ho Chi Minh City, according to Taiwan's Central News Agency.
Taiwanese conglomerate Formosa Plastics Group said Thursday that one of its Chinese workers had died and its giant steel plant was burned after a clash at an industrial park in central Vietnam’s Ha Tinh province between the company’s Chinese and Vietnamese workers.
Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported two Chinese nationals were killed and more than 100 hospitalized in the violence at the industrial park, while Vietnamese authorities reported one death and a doctor at a local hospital told Reuters news agency 21 had died.
China’s foreign ministry hit out at Vietnam on Thursday, suggesting that the Vietnamese government had turned a blind eye to the riots.
"The looting and stealing that has taken place at Chinese businesses and to Chinese people has a direct relationship with Vietnam's winking at and indulging lawbreakers there," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular news briefing in Beijing.
Beijing's deployment of the rig on May 1 near the Paracel Islands some 220 kilometers (140 miles) off of Vietnam's coast saw patrol vessels from the two countries converging in the disputed area, sending tensions spiraling.
The ships have skirmished repeatedly in recent days, causing collisions and the use of water cannon.
Beijing's decision to set up the rig is seen as one of its boldest moves yet in a bid to secure its claims in the South China Sea, which is known in Vietnam as the East Sea.
Dozens of anti-China rallies have been held in Vietnam since 2007 against perceived aggression by Beijing in the waters.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, rejecting rival claims from Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei.
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, by Xin Yu for the Mandarin Service, by the Khmer Service, and by the Vietnamese Service. Translated by Luisetta Mudie and Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink and Luisetta Mudie.