Life of Chinese people in Vietnam after anti-China unrest

Vietnamese protest outside the Chinese Embassy on May 11, 2014 in Hanoi, Vietnam, against Beijing's deployment of an oil rig in the contested waters of the South China Sea. Photo: AP

On May 28, some uniformed students used their bodies to scrabble up a map of Vietnam at a square in Vietnam National University, which deliberately encompassed the Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands to declare Vietnamese sovereignty over the disputed islands that China also claims.

The students' spontaneous act came one day after the report that Vietnamese courts had handed jail sentences to two men for damaging Chinese-owned factories in the recent anti-China riots prompted by China's deployment of an oil rig in the South China Sea. "After the riots, Vietnam's police arrested over 1,000 suspects, 700 of whom will be prosecuted," the report said. The report also restated the statement issued by Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung on May 20 that his government will take measures to compensate the affected companies during the anti-China riots, including tax exemption and land rent reduction.

Since the anti-China riots were stamped out on May 18, the Vietnamese government has been shirking its responsibility for the riots, and the Vietnamese media is playing down the high tensions between the two countries in the disputed waters in order not to trigger a new round of violence against Chinese people in Vietnam.

Who are real anti-China rioters?

"I don't want to hurt (Chinese) people. I just want to boost the morale of Vietnamese protestors, urging China and the international community not to bully Vietnam," said 24-year-old Trieu Phuong, who got the demonstration information from Facebook through her Huawei smartphone. "I don't hate China. Instead, I like Chinese TV series and stars," said the young girl.

She also expressed her anxiety that the riots could affect local people's employment, because over 20,000 Hai Phong citizens are hired by more than 200 factories and companies established by mainland and Taiwanese investors. Her friend has been unemployed for a week due to the anti-China riots, said the 24-year-old.

Unlike southern Vietnam's Binh Duong where 60,000 workers were out of work due to the riots, Hai Phong suffered less as a majority of Chinese factories and companies restarted operation in the second week following the protests.

"More than 100 foreign-owned businesses suffered losses to different degrees, with 12 factories burned down and 10 plants partly damaged," a local online media quoted an official with Binh Duong's social security bureau as saying.

Wang Minghao, general manager of Huazhong Company, a subsidiary of China's Pangda Automobile Trade Company, said that he was the only person remaining at work in the factory on May 14 when anti-China rioters just protested outside the factory and did not foray into it. Huazhong is one of the biggest tax payers in Hai Phong.

But things were different in Huazhong's vicinity where a Chinese-owned paper making enterprise is located, which could not escape the riots. The rioters broke into the plant area and shouted "Hand over the Chinese!" The paper making factory offers 200 to 500 jobs to local people every year.

The riots forced the two Chinese companies to suspend production, hire police for protection and demobilize Chinese employees on May 15.

On May 16, officials of the Hai Phong DoSon Industrial Zone and the city's vice mayor expressed their sympathy to the affected Chinese companies, denying Chinese speculation that the riots are manipulated by the Vietnamese government. An official told Mr. Wang, "The riots are engineered by exiled opposition party, with underworld groups acting as tools. We have made an investigation and vow to protect Chinese companies from attacks. So you don't need to halt production."

However, the official statement did not dispel Chinese doubts. On May 18, a new round of anti-China protests began nationwide.

Nervous Chinese in Hanoi

Brothers Yu Huaqiang and Yu Huasheng are going through their hardest time in Hanoi, capital of Vietnam, as their Wang Wang Chinese Restaurant, which started business seven years ago, is seeing a sharp drop in the number of dinners after the anti-China riots broke out on May 14.

For many Chinese people in Hanoi, this May is a turning point, not only because of the anti-China riots, but also because of the change in the Vietnamese government's policy on the territorial disputes with China.

On May 12, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said at the 24th ASEAN Summit that China deployed its oil rig at a position that lies over 80 nautical miles deep inside Vietnam's continental shelf and exclusive economic zone in accordance with the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The prime minister's misleading description spurred anti-China sentiment among the Vietnamese people, leading to large-scale rallies and protests against China by Vietnamese nationals in Singapore, Japan, France and Ukraine on May 13.

Between May 14 and 16, Vietnamese media's hype on China shooting water cannon to Vietnamese ships in the South China Sea also stoked the event. Many Vietnamese media blackened China as an "invader".

"After the riots erupted, many Chinese people went back to China. I haven't seen any Chinese coming here since then. As a Chinese in Vietnam's capital, I feel very nervous and frightened," said Mr. Yu Huaqiang.

"Since these days, Chinese people here avoid going out, let alone having a dinner at a Chinese restaurant, because they are concerned about being a punchbag," said Yu, adding that the major customers of his restaurant are Western visitors.

Mr. Yu Huaqiang recalled that he and his Vietnamese wife were embarrassed by a local taxi driver who refused to carry Chinese people a week after the anti-China riots.

"It is wise for me to have my Chinese passport unchanged at present. If something bad happens, our family may have another option (go back to China)," said Yu, who has lived in Vietnam for 17 years.

Paradise or enemy

There are many temples with plaques in Chinese characters located in Hanoi's famous 36 ancient streets, where many oblations printed with Chinese are sold.

On the northeastern side of the street lies a notable Taoist ancestral hall owned by Duy Long's (transliteration) family. The Vietnamese family has lived in the ancestral hall for four generations.

Mr. Duy Long is the only one of his family who can speak a foreign language. When asked to describe China, he told an old Vietnamese saying "The paradise is far away, but China is close to us".

Mr. Duy Long said that the old saying has two meanings. One is that China is the paradise. The other is that China is the obstacle for Vietnamese people who want to go to the paradise.

When asked why there are so many Buddhist and Taoist temples in Hanoi, He said that it is because China has "invaded" us for thousands of years.

The spats over Chinese deployment of the oil rig in the disputed South China Sea again substantiate the old saying. China and Vietnam are divided on resources exploitation in the South China Sea. On one hand, Vietnam is willing to exploit oil in the waters. On the other hand, it cannot do it independently due to his inability to develop a deep-see oil drilling ship. The deployment of the Chinese oil rig not only ignites Vietnam's jealousy over China's advanced technology, but also damages its self-esteem.

Since the 2008 global financial crisis, China has doubled its gross domestic product and increasingly turned itself from a "world factory" to a major global developer and investor. Meanwhile, many Chinese enterprises have begun outsourcing product processing to the emerging markets, such as Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

(The article is translated and edited by Ding Yi)

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