Hundreds of Chinese were today fleeing Vietnam ahead of expected large-scale anti-China demonstrations planned for the weekend, following the deaths of at least two during riots.
While many have sought refuge in neighbouring Cambodia, more have rushed to major airports to fly to back to China until the violence dies down.
Among the groups of mostly middle-aged men flying out of Ho Chih Minh City Airport today was a shoe factory manager, surnamed Guo, who said he had been forced to hide at his home in Vietnam’s second city before he was able to fly back to Guangzhou.
Watch: Protesters torch Chinese factories in Vietnam
Guo said he feared for his safety after his workplace was looted by “hundreds”, with police unable to stop the protesters. He added that he had been shown pictures of Chinese people beaten up by rioters in Vietnam’s industrial areas.
“I was afraid. Friends sent me photos of Chinese people beaten up. They beat up every Chinese they found,” he told the South China Morning Post. “We just hid at home [until] the consulate told us it was safe to drive to the airport.
“It was completely unexpected. I was out of the office when they called to say it had been looted,” he said, adding that the police were overpowered. “You can’t stop it when there are so many people.”
He said he was one of 11 Chinese managerial staff to leave the plant. “We left two staff at the factory. We’ll come back as soon as they say its safe.”
Vietnam's Council of Taiwanese Chambers of Commerce has issued a warning to Chinese businesses that may be targeted in the next few days. It urged these firms to raise the Vietnamese flag over their offices and to remove or cover Chinese characters on their buildings or gates.
At least two Chinese have died, and around 90 been injured during the riots, in which Vietnamese protesters attacked Chinese businesses and torched factories over Beijing’s establishment of an oil rig in the disputed Paracel Islands weeks ago.
Guo said he left his family behind in Guangdong when the factory moved to Vietnam two years ago, as labour was cheaper.
He said authorities had visited the looted factory soon afterwards and offered a tax rebate as compensation for the damage. But Guo is sceptical. “You can’t expect compensation here,” he said, adding that about 100 local factory workers did not participate in the looting.
“These are good people; they want to return to work,” he said.
The Taiwanese chamber of commerce warned that the protests would continue in the northern industrial zones, downtown Hanoi and other cities where there are Chinese businesses.
"All companies should be prepared to avoid the situation that the protest evolving to violent activities," it said, listing the safety recommendations.
"Enhance safety; ask the local government for help," it said in a statement. "Stay away from the protesting crowds to avoid riots. Do not walk close to take photos."
Two of the 10 flights on the departure board at Ho Chih Minh City Airport are headed to Hong Kong, and two each to the mainland and Taiwan.
In the departures hall around 50 mainlanders and Taiwanese in a room of mostly tourists asked each other where they were from and where they were headed. Many were discussing the riots, asking, “Was there any damage?”
At the arrival area, large billboards for the Bank of China, Bank of Communications and HSBC loom over passengers. One American-Chinese tourist in his 20s, when asked about the violence, said he wasn’t too concerned.
“I’ll be sure to keep away from that. Hopefully I will be busy drinking.”
With additional reporting from Keira Lu Huang