Troops, tanks, trucks, artillery, and armored personnel carriers of China’s military were seen heading to the Vietnamese border on May 16 and 17, according to photographs taken by by residents near the border.
Chinese netizens have been posting photographs of the large movement of the People’s Liberation Army, many of them showing Chinese troops in full combat gear heading to the local train station in Chongzuo, along with military vehicles.
One netizen said the Chinese military was taking the train from the Chongzuo station to Pingxiang City, which shares a 60-mile border with Vietnam. The netizen said that the Huu Nghi Border Gate to Vietnam is also now closed.
One of the photos, taken from inside a passenger train, shows the Chinese military preparing artillery for transport on a train track. Others show Chinese troops and military vehicles traveling along dirt roads.
A reverse image search of each of the photographs using Google indicated that the photographs had appeared on the Internet only recently. Most were indexed by Google on Saturday.
Collectively, the images and eyewitness reports from the ground show what Taiwanese media are calling an “endless stream” of Chinese troops.
One netizen, with the username Zhiyuan0703, echoed a common sentiment on the Chinese social media site, “Conflict between China and Vietnam is imminent.”
Controversial Oil Rig
The troop movement comes amid growing anti-China protests in Vietnam. They began last week after Chinese state-run oil company CNOOC began setting up an oil rig 120 nautical miles from Vietnam in waters near the disputed Paracel islands.
The protests began with close to 100 people in Ho Chi Minh City last Saturday, grew to more than 1,000 people in Hanoi on Sunday, and later grew into riots. The protesters have since burned foreign-owned factories. An estimated 21 people have been killed, including at least one Chinese worker in a Taiwanese steel mill.
China has suspended some plans for a bilateral exchange with Vietnam, details of which were not specified, in response to the riots, according to China’s state-run news service Xinhua.
China has evacuated more than 3,000 of its citizens from Vietnam, and announced Sunday it is sending five ships to help with the evacuations. According to Xinhua, China has issued travel warnings to its citizens traveling to Vietnam.
The report added, citing a Foreign Ministry representative, “China will also consider taking further measures according to the situation’s development.”
China is currently involved in territorial conflicts with nearly all its neighbors. Tensions have been growing particularly intense, however, over China’s claims to disputed territory in the East China Sea and South China Sea.
Fang Fenghui, the Chinese military’s chief of the general staff, spoke with reporters at the Pentagon on May 15, alongside U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.
Fang defended China’s oil drilling in disputed waters with Vietnam. He also warned the United States on taking sides, saying through a Chinese translator “there is possibility that these issues could affect or disturb the relationship between the two countries and two militaries.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney reiterated the U.S. stance on China’s oil rig, however, during a May 15 press briefing.
He said China’s oil rig, which the Chinese regime has accompanied with “numerous government vessels” is a “provocative act and it raises tensions in the region, and by raising tensions makes it more difficult to resolve claims over disputed territory in a manner that supports peace and stability in the region.”
Carney said the United States takes no position on the territorial claims, but, “We do take a position on the conduct of the claimants who must resolve their disputes peacefully, without intimidation, without coercion, and in accordance with international law.”
Regarding China’s oil rig and the tensions that have formed around it, Carney said, “We consider that act provocative and we consider it one that undermines the goal that we share, which is a peaceful resolution of these disputes and general stability in the region.”
Additional reporting by Lu Chen