China Vietnam
Chinese passenger ships Wuzhishan, center, and Tongguling, left, seen at Haikou, capital of south China's Hainan province, before their departure on May 18, 2014
Wei Hua—AP
May 19, 2014 4:05 AM EDT

Two Chinese passenger ships arrived early on Monday at the central-Vietnamese port of Vung Ang to evacuate Chinese nationals, who are fearing for their safety after anti-Chinese riots last week saw foreign businesses attacked, two Chinese killed and about 140 people injured.

More than 3,000 Chinese have already been helped to leave the country following protests that flared up across Vietnam over a Chinese oil rig that is drilling in waters claimed by both sides. Beijing has announced a 4.8-km exclusion zone around the rig, and Hanoi claims that there are 119 Chinese vessels in the area, including warships.

On Sunday, 290 Chinese citizens were flown out aboard two chartered planes, with another 16 critically injured Chinese evacuated on a medical flight, Xinhua news agency reports.

Public protests are a rarity in communist Vietnam. The security forces have been deployed in Ho Chi Minh City to quell new waves of demonstrations, and mobile carriers have sent repeated texts to subscribers with a message from Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung asking people to stay away from further protests.

However, small groups of peaceful protesters continued to gather on Sunday, and neither side has shown any real sign of backing down over the territorial conflict, which has revived a long-standing enmity between Beijing and Hanoi.

The two Chinese vessels that arrived on Monday each have a capacity of 1,000 people and are among five boats that will take part in the evacuation operation, a port official told the Associated Press. The vessels are presently berthed at a huge Taiwanese steel-mill complex that was overrun by an anti-China mob, and their presence is eerily reminiscent of a similar evacuation in 1978 that horribly backfired.

That year, with a war with Hanoi in the offing, China also sent ships to Vietnam — to evacuate members of Vietnam’s ethnically Chinese minority, known as Hoa. Hanoi took grave affront when the vessels arrived (“The South China Sea is not China’s own pond. Haiphong and Ho Chi Minh City are not Chinese ports” read a Vietnamese commentary at the time). Instead of allowing Hoa to board the Chinese ships, the Vietnamese Public Security Bureau built boats and fleeced the ethnic Chinese of gold and currency in exchange for being allowed to leave the country aboard the rickety vessels. Thirty thousand to 40,000 Hoa, and Vietnamese pretending to be Hoa, are believed to have perished at sea as a result.

China’s Foreign Ministry meanwhile said on Sunday it had issued a warning against travel to Vietnam and was suspending some diplomatic contact.

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