South China Sea: After violence, Beijing evacuates thousands of workers from Vietnam

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An emergency flight has repatriated 16 seriously injured workers. 4 thousand others ready to leave in next few days; 3 thousand workers left the country over weekend. Tensions remain high. Vietnamese Bishop: Hanoi has been "too accommodating " with China; enough "bilateral talks" the dispute is “international”.

Beijing has organized an emergency flight, to bring home a group of 16 Chinese workers seriously injured during the Vietnamese nationalists' attacks on foreign factories over the last few days. Meanwhile, the Chinese Ministry of Transport has ordered the deployment of five more vessels, to complete the evacuation of its citizens from the area. The agreement signed between Beijing and Hanoi last year for 60 billion dollars in bilateral trade by 2015, is now also at risk. The Chinese Foreign Ministry yesterday announced the suspension of some joint programs, urging fellow citizens to avoid travel in the neighboring country.

The violence is motivated by China's decision in early May, to build a platform for oil exploration, the Haiyang Shiyou 981 off the east coast of Vietnam, followed by the dispatch of naval ships, fighter jets and helicopters to patrol the  area. A move that has exacerbated nationalism of a large portion of the Vietnamese population , which has responded with street protests that have taken a violent drift characterized by riots and assaults that have led to at least 2 deaths and 140 injured .

This morning four ships flying the flag of China, with a capacity of 1000 passengers each, reached the port of Vung Ang, in the central province of Ha Tinh, 250 kilometers south of Hanoi. There are at least 4 thousand Chinese workers waiting to be evacuated from Vietnam in the aftermath of the violence last week. Vung Ang is located within the mega steel plant, the largest in the country , owned by Taiwan and stormed by Vietnamese nationalists to protest against Beijing's "imperialism" in the South China Sea . Chinese government sources report that on the evening of 17 May , already 3 thousand citizens had fled the country.

Meanwhile, Hanoi is concerned about the economic and trade relations with Taiwan: President Ma Ying- jeou has ordered the preparation of flights, ready on the runway in case of the need to urgently evacuate Taiwanese citizens from plants in Vietnam. The Vietnamese envoy to Taipei has offered a formal apology for the incident in Hanoi, offering to cut taxes to compensate companies for their losses.

Msgr. Paul Nguyên Thai Hop, head of the Vietnamese Catholic Churches' Justice and Peace Commission has commented on controversy between China and Vietnam, which turned alarmingly violent over the past week. The bishop condemns the China's political opportunism in building the oil rig while Vietnam was celebrating the anniversary of the end of the war (30 April 1975) and the United States - active in the Asia-Pacific region - had turned their attention to the Ukraine. Msgr Thai Hop stresses the need to "internationalize" the dispute over the seas , and "we must not continue bilateral talks with Beijing" because " it is precisely these bilateral talks" that have led the two nations "to the current dramatic situation". Vietnam , he adds, "should let the world know" about the issue.  He also hopes that this dispute will "serve as a lesson" to the Hanoi authorities , to "reconsider their policy of recent years", the system of the single party rule and close bond with other communist nations in the area, such as China. Our government, he concludes, has "been too accommodating, which some term as too cowardly towards China".

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.

Source: (May 19, 2014)