Vung Ang (Vietnam): Hundreds of Chinese workers left Vietnam today on a ship chartered by their government after Beijing’s deployment of a large oil rig in a disputed patch of the South China Sea triggered deadly rioting last week.

Two ships with a capacity of 1,000 passengers each arrived at Vung Ang port early this morning. One departed after a few hours, according to an Associated Press reporter outside the facility who saw the workers getting on board.

Vung Ang port is part of a large, under-construction Taiwanese steel mill complex 350 kilometres south of Hanoi that was overrun by an anti-China mob on Wednesday and Thursday. Two Chinese workers were killed and 140 injured in the attack, which also left parts of the facility on fire.

Linh said around 3,000 Chinese workers were employed constructing the complex.

Tensions between Hanoi and Beijing are running at their highest for years. Soon after Beijing deployed the rig on May 1, Hanoi sent ships to confront it. They are now locked in a standoff with Chinese ships protecting the rig, raising fears of possible conflict.

Vietnam has been trying to rally international support for its stance. The United States has labelled China’s move as provocative.

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.

While noting that countries are obligated to help their citizens, Jonathan 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 destabilised Vietnam (and) sends ominous signals and veiled threats of punitive action.”

“This maneuver might be perceived as indicating that (Chinese President Xi Jinping) 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.

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