BANGKOK — Anti-China protests erupted throughout Vietnam and more than 100 people were arrested late Sunday after demonstrators stormed a provincial government building east of Ho Chi Minh City, the local news media reported.
Many Vietnamese harbor resentment against China, Vietnam’s northern neighbor, and were said to be angry about a measure that would allow the leasing of land to foreigners for 99 years in three special economic zones.
The government, which was scheduled to adopt the measure this week, said it would delay action until later this year, according to media reports.
Hundreds of protesters carrying signs and banners took to the streets in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and several other cities over the weekend.
On Sunday evening, hundreds of demonstrators in Binh Thuan Province defied tear gas and fire hoses to storm the office of the People’s Committee. The authorities said that dozens of police officers were injured in clashes and that the protesters burned cars and vandalized the building.
The Vietnamese public was already angry over China’s claim to much of the South China Sea, including coastal waters that Vietnam claims. Now, many fear that the proposed economic zones would be dominated by Chinese investors, including possibly state-owned companies.
Past protests against China have become a focal point for a range of grievances against the Vietnamese government, including the seizure of farmland to build malls and factories.
Sunday’s protests were reminiscent of riots that broke out in 2014 after China placed an oil rig in waters off Vietnam. The government initially allowed peaceful protests, but they quickly grew out of control, and more than 200 factories owned by Chinese and other foreign companies were looted and set ablaze around Vietnam.
The worst rioting occurred at a steel factory being built in Ha Tinh Province by a subsidiary of Taiwan’s giant Formosa Plastics Group, where the company employed thousands of laborers from mainland China. Protesters stopped buses, pulled off Chinese passengers and beat them. Four people were killed.
Two years later, the same factory caused one of Vietnam’s largest environmental disasters when it flushed cyanide and other chemicals through its waste pipeline, killing marine life along a 120-mile stretch of coastline.
Many people were sickened from eating poisoned fish and the coastal fishing economy collapsed, prompting numerous demonstrations along Vietnam’s central coast.