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September 27, 2017

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Nationality not the sole factor in violent anti-China protests

Over 200 Taiwanese-owned companies were attacked and damaged, 18 factories were set ablaze and several hundred firms funded by Taiwanese investors suspended work owing to safety concerns during a wave of anti-China sentiment in Vietnam.

Vietnamese have been staging protests after China deployed an oil rig in early May in disputed waters off the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, which both Hanoi and Beijing claim.

On May 11, mass demonstrations were staged in several provinces including Ho Chi Minh City and Binh Duong province to protest the Chinese rig. Two days later, the protests turned violent. Factories, especially "Chinese" factories stationed in industrial zones, were smashed up by demonstrators. Vietnamese rioters stormed the factories on the night of May 13, smashing windows and ripping down Chinese-character signs — regardless of whether they were simplified or traditional Chinese — and even set fire to several factories.

Many Taiwanese employees stayed in their dormitories and turned off all the lights to make it appear that the buildings were unoccupied. Foreign employees witnessed through windows that after the rioters smashed the plants, they started to take the unfinished products from the factories and flee. According to the Executive Yuan, the out-of-control riots have driven over 8,000 Taiwanese to return to Taiwan between May 12 and 20.

A Taiwanese associate manager reportedly hid in a garbage heap for two days in an attempt to avoid being discovered by the rioters. He told reporters that he feels as if he were a refugee trying to flee from calamity. He was not alone; many Taiwanese did not even have time to get their passports before running to the airport to return to Taiwan.

Many have argued that the reason Taiwanese employees became the victims of this chaos was because the Vietnamese cannot distinguish Taiwanese people from the Chinese. Some opposition politicians even blamed the Ma administration's "one China" policy for creating "confusion" among the Vietnamese.

However, if the Vietnamese can be made to distinguish the differences between Taiwan and China, can Taiwan citizens and their interests be spared from destruction?

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