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Chinese ships arrive in Vietnam to evacuate workers following deadly riots

  • China Vietnam-1.jpg

    In this Sunday, May 18, 2014 photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, passenger ships Wuzhishan, center, and Tongguling, left, are moored before setting sail to Vietnam , at Xiuying port in Haikou, capital of south China's Hainan Province. A port official said the two Chinese passenger ships have arrived at a central Vietnamese port to evacuate Chinese nationals following deadly rioting last week. The official said the boats with a capacity of 1,000 passengers each arrived at Vung Ang early Monday, May 19. (AP Photo/Xinhua, Wei Hua) NO SALES (The Associated Press)

  • China Vietnam-2.jpg

    In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, passenger ship Wuzhishan, center, leaves from Xiuying port for Vietnam to evacuate nationals affected by anti- China violence, in Haikou, China's south most province of Hainan, Sunday, May 18, 2014. On Sunday, China said it dispatched the passenger ship capable of carrying 1,000 people, the first of five vessels it planned to send to complete an evacuation on top of 3,000 nationals who had left earlier. With Chinese traveling in increasing numbers, Beijing is under pressure to protect them overseas. (AP Photo/Xinhua, Wei Hua) NO SALES (The Associated Press)

  • China Vietnam-3.jpg

    In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, over 290 Chinese nationals affected by Vietnam's anti-China riots arrive in Chengdu, the capital of southwest China's Sichuan Province, Sunday, May 18, 2014. China's Foreign Ministry said two charter flights carrying more than 290 Chinese employees from affected businesses arrived in Chengdu in southwest China on Sunday afternoon. They included more than 100 injured people. (AP Photo/Xinhua, Hai Mingwei) NO SALES (The Associated Press)

Two Chinese passenger ships arrived at a Vietnamese port Monday to evacuate Chinese workers following deadly rioting last week, officials said, a dramatic maneuver from Beijing that intensifies pressure on Hanoi as the two countries jostle over disputed territory in the South China Sea.

The boats with a capacity to carry 1,000 passengers each arrived at Vung Ang port early Monday morning, but didn't immediately dock, said Thai Tran Linh, a government official in Ha Tinh. He said officials were still examining the paperwork of the ships, which left China's Hainan Island on Sunday.

Vung Ang port is part of a large, under-construction Taiwanese steel mill complex 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Hanoi that was overrun by an anti-China mob last week. Two Chinese workers were killed and 140 injured in the attack, which also left parts of the facility on fire. Linh said it employed around 3,000 Chinese workers.

There has been no violence or protests since last Thursday, and Chinese people have been able to leave the country independently with no impediments since then.

The nationwide unrest, the worst to hit in Vietnam years, followed Beijing's deployment of a large oil rig in a patch of the South China Sea also claimed by Vietnam. Both nations have sent ships to the waters that are now locked in a tense standoff, raising fears of a possible conflict.

While noting that countries are obligated to help their citizens, Johnathan London, a Vietnam expert at Hong Kong's City University, said sending ships "broadcasts to the world a sense that China is a victim, creates an image of a destabilized Vietnam (and) sends ominous signals and veiled threats of punitive action."

"This maneuver might be perceived as indicating that Xi Jingpin is more interested in deepening rather than alleviating the prevailing sense of crisis which, if true, does not bode well for those hoping for de-escalation and newly-imaginative attempts at conflict resolution," he wrote in an email.

Around 400 other factories around the country were damaged or destroyed in mob violence, most in industrial parks close to southern Ho Chi Minh City. Many factories were not Chinese-run but Taiwanese or from elsewhere in Asia, apparently targeted mistakenly or by gangs intent on looting.

Vietnam's government, furious at China's positioning of the rig, initially allowed street protests, a rarity in the authoritarian country. But since the rioting they have cracked down, aware that the violence threatened the country's reputation as a safe and cheap destination for foreign manufacturers to establish.