More than 1,000 Hongkongers cancel Vietnam trips in wake of rioting

Tourism Council chief says sites for visitors safe, but tour operators fear growing risks amid protest violence

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 May, 2014, 11:25am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 May, 2014, 6:39pm

More than 1,000 Hongkongers have cancelled their trips to Vietnam as the anti-Chinese riots show no sign of easing in the country. 

The Hong Kong tourists had joined 45 tour groups that would have been departing between today and May 26.

Joseph Tung Yao-chung, executive director of Hong Kong’s Travel Industry Council, said today that tour operators believed risks might grow, although sightseeing spots on their itineraries were currently safe.

He said 14 tour groups with 350 Hongkongers are now in Vietnam and they are asked to report to the council of their situation every day. There has been no report of any trouble so far, said Tung, and the tour groups are expected to return to the city by next Tuesday.

Violence against Chinese companies in Vietnam turned deadly yesterday, with the Hong Kong government upgrading its travel alert from amber to red.

Xinhua reported that at least two Chinese had been killed in riots over the establishment of an oil rig in the disputed Paracel Islands two weeks ago.

Another 10 Chinese were said by Xinhua to be missing and more than 100 hospitalised.

Watch: Protesters torch Chinese factories in Vietnam after South China Sea dispute escalated

But despite the protests spreading to 22 of Vietnam's 63 provinces, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the Paracels drilling operation would continue.

Reuters reported that a doctor working at a hospital in central Ha Tinh province had claimed at least five Vietnamese workers and 16 other people described as Chinese were killed on Wednesday night, but the report could not be confirmed.

One of the deaths reported by Xinhua was at the Taiwanese-backed Foming Bicycle Parts factory in southern Binh Duong province. Another was said to have been killed in Ha Tinh.

Meanwhile, Formosa Plastics Group - Taiwan's biggest investor in Vietnam - said its steel plant in Ha Tinh was set on fire after fighting between its Vietnamese and mainland Chinese workers.

The company said in a statement in Taipei that one mainland Chinese worker died and 90 others were injured.

But it is unclear whether the death is the same fatality in Ha Tinh reported by Xinhua.

More than 600 Chinese have crossed the Vietnamese border into Cambodia, another Xinhua report said.

Some mainlanders and Taiwanese complained the price of air tickets home had soared.

Thirty Hong Kong workers returned to the city on Wednesday night.

A staff member from the China Business Association in Ho Chi Minh City said: "Some members told us that their properties were plundered, and raiders even burned their factories after taking valuable items."

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua said she was "shocked" by the developments and accused Hanoi of acting in concert with anti-China groups.

She said the violence was directly related to the "Vietnamese side's … connivance in recent days with some domestic anti-China forces and illegal groups".

Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung described the situation as "very serious" and said protesters who broke the law would be punished.

Minister of Planning and Investment Bui Quang Vinh called for tough measures, saying about 400 businesses had "been smashed".

Taiwan's economic ministry said at least 100 Taiwanese factories were looted and 11 of them torched.

Li & Fung, the world's biggest provider of clothes and toys to retailers, said production could be hit because the violence had forced most factories in Ho Chi Minh City to cease operation.

In Hong Kong, the Immigration Department said they received five requests for help as of yesterday evening. Travel companies in the city have cancelled group tours of Vietnam.

The protests show no signs of abating, with Vietnamese online users urging support for a major rally on Sunday.

Additional reporting by Lawrence Chung, Minnie Chan, Samuel Chan, Tiffany Ap, Kristine Kwok, Agence France-Presse, Reuters


Taiwan sets up taskforce to help victims of Vietnam rioting

Taiwan yesterday set up a cabinet-level taskforce to deal with the violent anti-Chinese protests in Vietnam after President Ma Ying-jeou convened a national security meeting to map out emergency measures.

"The government will swiftly evacuate all its nationals there whenever necessary," Premier Jiang Yi-huah said, referring to around 40,000 Taiwanese business people and their dependants in Vietnam.

The foreign ministry said two airlines had agreed to put on more flights to take its citizens home.

Jiang's comments followed criticism by the opposition and some ruling Kuomintang lawmakers that the Ma government had always been slow in responding to such emergencies.

"Does that mean the government would only act after some of our people are killed there?" said legislator Chen Ting-fei, of the Democratic Progressive Party.

Jiang said Taiwan had already demanded that Vietnam fully exercise the rule of law to restore social order, protect Taiwanese businessmen and compensate for the losses of all Taiwanese interests caused by the riots.

He said the government would assist Taiwanese investors to make necessary claims.

Taiwan is the fourth largest foreign investor in Vietnam, and has pumped US$27.3 billion into a wide range of businesses there.

Two Taiwanese had been injured in the riots, the foreign ministry in Taipei said.

"I don't want to describe myself as a refugee, but the way I managed to get out of Vietnam was exactly like the scene of a big getaway," said one Taiwanese engineer after arriving on a flight to Taipei.

The engineer, surnamed Wang, told how the footwear factory where he worked came under attack by rioters.

"They pulled down the main gate, used clubs and iron rods to smash everything they saw and in the end, set fire to the factory," Wang said. "It was horrifying."

Wang said seven nearby factories with Taiwanese investment were also burned down. "There has gone millions of US dollars worth of our investments," he said.

A businessman said many so-called protesters were actually rioters and looters.

"It was outrageous for the Vietnamese police to have done almost nothing, as if they were siding with the rioters," the man said.

Lawrence Chung in Taipei