Hundreds of Chinese nationals have fled to Cambodia since Tuesday following a series of deadly riots in Vietnam targeting businesses associated with China, police have said.
About 700 Chinese have crossed into Cambodia via the Bavet International Border Checkpoint in Svay Rieng province after the fallout from Chinese actions in the disputed South China Sea turned deadly, with reports of up to 21 people being killed during rioting that began with attacks on foreign-owned factories.
About 60 Chinese entered Cambodia yesterday, down from the two prior days, when more than 600 made the journey, a senior border official in Bavet town said yesterday.
“They were worried about their personal safety,” the official said, adding that Vietnamese anti-China demonstrations, which led to several factories being burned down, had spurred the exodus.
“Yesterday, some 50 or 60 Chinese nationals came, but it was not the same level as on Tuesday. Out of some 600 Chinese, some work in the factories, some are investors and the figure is higher than usual,” he said.
The Chinese nationals were entering Cambodia with valid passports and applying for visas in line with local laws or else they would not be allowed into the country, he added.
Protests by Vietnamese workers have spread to 22 of the country’s 63 provinces, Vietnam’s minister of planning and investment said yesterday. He called for “tough measures” to bring the situation under control before foreign investors pull out of the country.
General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, which deals with immigration, yesterday welcomed the arrival of the Chinese, who entered Cambodia on tourist and business visas.
“If they enter our territory, they spend money. They spend money on guesthouses and hotels,” he said.
The latest riots broke out on Wednesday at a steel mill owned by Taiwanese industrial conglomerate Formosa Plastics in Vietnam’s central Ha Tinh province, about 500 kilometres from Hanoi.
“One Chinese male worker was killed in the chaos,” said Dang Quoc Khanh, a Ha Tinh local official.
The Chinese Embassy in Hanoi issued a statement on Tuesday calling on its nationals to exercise caution.
“China’s embassy in Vietnam once again reminds Chinese firms and staff in Vietnam to take security precautions and avoid unnecessary trips outdoors,” it said.
Cheng Hongbo, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh, said that the Cambodian authorities had not yet provided information about the scale of the problem.
“We don’t have any info from Cambodian officials yet,” he said. “Maybe hundreds are coming here.”
Vietnamese nationals in Cambodia meanwhile held talks over how to respond to the escalation of the dispute.
Sim Chy, president of the Vietnamese Association of Cambodia, yesterday denied that his organisation was planning a protest against Chinese interests, which would be illegal under Cambodian law.
“We will not hold any protest, but some plans will be made to respond to the matter, which I cannot speak of in advance, because we are having a meeting with the committee at my association,” he said.
Sopheak said that no protests against foreign nationals would be allowed, as they would be in breach of Cambodia’s constitution.
“If they want to protest or to do anything against other nationalities, they cannot do it, because Cambodia’s . . . constitution does not permit it. Even if they want to protest against China, the US or Vietnam itself, that’s impossible. Cambodia is a neutral country,” he said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY DANIEL PYE AND AFP