China parked a mobile oil rig on what Vietnam claims is its water feature last week. Lively times ensued:
A 1,000-strong mob stormed a Taiwanese steel mill in Vietnam and hunted down Chinese workers, killing one, attacking scores more and then setting the complex alight, Taiwanese and Vietnamese authorities said Thursday, further inflaming tensions between Hanoi and Beijing as they square off against each other in the disputed South China Sea.
And so on. There were also riots further south in which an entire business park was apparently burned down, affecting Chinese, Taiwanese and South Korean businesses impartially.
A few thoughts. There's been quite a bit made of the fact that the rioters didn't distinguish between Chinese and Taiwanese owned firms. Since this appears to be at least partly an anti-Chinese pogrom, that's not an issue. Ethnic rioting doesn't tend to distinguish between nationalities.
It's notable that though severe, the disturbances seem to be confined to the workforce at foreign invested firms, who can hardly be the only people in Vietnam annoyed by China's behaviour last week. What that indicates is that there might be something else going on as well, either general economic grievances or a wider sense that Vietnam is being exploited by foreigners. Chucking out the imperialists in order to provide low paid labour for foreign manufacturers is hardly what Uncle Ho promised all those years ago.
Vietnamese dissidents have often linked their wider fight against the regime with protests against purported Chinese economic exploitation and/or diplomatic bullying. However sincere these may be, they also provide patriotic cover for wider anti-government agitation. Hanoi was perfectly aware of this and has a long record of crackdowns against anti-Chinese demonstrations. Perhaps part of Beijing's calculation when it decided to pull Hanoi's chain was the fact that Hanoi has not, in the past, felt itself free to fully exploit popular anti-Chinese sentiment since this is often the vehicle for protest against the Vietnamese Communist Party. In this context, acting to trigger public disorder in Vietnam is also a kind of diplomatic force multiplier for Beijing.
If so, given the scale of the current rioting, Beijing might have miscalculated. Currently, both sides are flying the flag in the Paracels with civilian naval assets. If rioting on this scale continues, Hanoi might feel compelled to send in a few gunboats or offer China a military counter-provocation in some other area disputed between the two.
Meanwhile, news of the riots is being strictly suppressed in the Sinosphere.