Rumours in Vietnam blame outside forces for deadly anti-Chinese riots
Anti-Chinese violence was planned by groups with a hidden agenda, though sources disagree on who organised attacks and why they did it
Vietnam is awash with theories that outside forces, possibly with a murky pro-China agenda, orchestrated last week's deadly anti-China riots.
Although the identity of the supposed masterminds remains a subject of debate, few seem willing to believe that the violence that claimed four Chinese lives and injured scores of workers erupted spontaneously.
The riots broke out amid public anger at Chinese sovereignty claims in the South China Sea, and targeted hundreds of factories, although only a minority of them were Chinese-owned.
Dinh Hoang Thang, a retired diplomat who has criticised China over the maritime territorial conflict, said the riots should not be viewed as an escalation of anti-China sentiment but rather as an attempt to smear the leadership in Hanoi.
"All these riots were not done by the workers," he said. "These were outsiders who were wellorganised," he said.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a reliable source linked to the Hanoi government said he believed the protesters had not intended for their demonstrations to turn deadly.
The source noted numerous witness accounts about a large group of men on motorcycles who had their faces covered with scarves and handkerchiefs.
State media described the men as members of criminal gangs, and Vietnamese police are said to have rounded up many of them over the past week.
One popular scenario in Vietnam is that these provocateurs and some protesting workers were paid by anti-government forces working outside Vietnam.
"Human rights groups and democracy-promoting groups have been very active in organising these demonstrations," said Li Mingjiang, an associate professor at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. "Many of these groups in Vietnam have close connections with Vietnamese-American political groups who have always lobbied various US government agencies to put pressure on Vietnam on its human rights and political freedom issues."
However, the Hanoi-linked source who spoke to the South China Morning Post believes it is unlikely such groups would have had the ability to pull off such wide-scale violence.
He suggested "Chinese spies" had played a role.
"If you check properly, you will find that these criminals never stole many things. They just destroyed things. They were paid to do a particular job, I am sure, which is why they can't be bothered with stealing," said the source.
Tuong Vu, associate professor of political science at the University of Oregon, said the anti-China riots had actually served to strengthen pro-China elements in Vietnam.
"There have been several theories about whether the protests were spontaneous and who might have provoked them," Tuong Vu said.
"Regardless of which theory is true, in terms of Vietnamese politics the pro-China hardliners perhaps benefited the most, being able to make the case for strengthening control over civil society while keeping good relations with China. Civil society groups and those in the leadership who support a confrontation with China were put in a precarious or defensive situation."
Regardless of how the violence started, there is little doubt that the anger of Vietnamese workers in mainland Chinese, Taiwanese and South Korean-owned factories played a role.
"They are known to pay lousy wages and every worker usually rents a tiny room to sleep in. Sometimes, the workers are not allowed to go to the toilet for hours while working," said the source with knowledge of the protests. "I know some, they don't even eat breakfast so they can save money. Psychologically, it is draining."