HA TINH PROVINCE, Vietnam — Violence against foreign-owned factories has spread across Vietnam and taken a deadly turn, with officials saying Thursday that at least one Chinese worker had been killed and scores more injured when hundreds of protesting Vietnamese rampaged through a steel plant.
The explosion of violence, which started in the industrial suburbs of Ho Chi Minh City, was set off initially by anger at China, which has been pressing territorial claims in the South China Sea. But it has shown signs of broadening into a more general outpouring of frustration.
News agencies quoted government officials as saying that the unrest had spread to 22 of Vietnam’s 63 provinces and carried unconfirmed reports of additional deaths.
In Ha Tinh province in north central Vietnam, hundreds of protesting workers stormed through the Formosa Plastics Group’s steel plant Wednesday afternoon, attacking Chinese citizens who were working there, the company said Thursday. One employee was killed and 90 others were injured in the violence, according to the company.
The protesters smashed and looted equipment at the plant and set it on fire, the company said. Managers on the scene called the local authorities, who sent vehicles to evacuate Chinese workers from the plant. The head of the Ha Tinh provincial government went to the factory around 10 p.m. and met with security officials to try to restore order, Formosa Plastics said, but the rioting continued until early Thursday.
Vietnam has seen an influx of international investment in recent years, much of it in manufacturing industries that depend on low-wage labor. The influx has contributed to more than two decades of uneven, but at times rapid, economic growth in Vietnam and an influx of Chinese workers that has been the source of tensions.
Though the original spark for protests appeared to be China’s deployment of an oil drilling rig and a flotilla of coast guard vessels in disputed waters off the Vietnamese coast, workers and companies from South Korea and Taiwan have also become targets.
China Airlines, based in Taiwan, sent two extra aircraft to Ho Chi Minh City on Thursday to handle a surge of Taiwanese people trying to leave Vietnam after its two regularly scheduled flights sold out. There were also reports that hundreds of mainland Chinese were fleeing across the Cambodian border to Phnom Penh.
Taiwan’s minister of foreign affairs, David Lin, told legislators Thursday that Taiwan was taking steps to ensure that all its citizens who wanted to leave Vietnam could do so and that Taiwan would seek compensation for damage to its business interests in Vietnam. Government officials in China and Hong Kong issued travel warnings, Reuters reported.
As the violence spread to other parts of Vietnam, factory managers in Binh Duong province surveyed the damage Thursday and complained that the police response had been listless or nonexistent.
“I called the police, called and called,” said Pang Chi Wa, who works as a manager at HWA Jong Group, a garment maker based in Taiwan with a factory in Binh Duong. Pang said the crowds of protesters had circled the factory in the surrounding streets several times before mounting their attack.
He said his pleas for police help went unanswered.
“Maybe it was deliberate, maybe it was too much for them to deal with, but now they seem to regret it,” he said of the police.