Binh Duong, Vietnam
A general view of a damaged Chinese owned shoe factory is seen in Vietnam's southern Binh Duong province on May 14, 2014. Reuters/Thanh Tung Truong

Local authorities across Vietnam must act immediately to protect foreign investors’ lives and assets, the nation’s minister of planning and investment said as anti-Chinese riots escalated over a territorial dispute.

Relations between China and Vietnam, already tense, quickly soured this week when China placed an oil rig in a contested region of the South China Sea. Demonstrations that started peacefully Wednesday turned violent when protesters began burning and raiding factories in southern Vietnam. More than 20 Chinese and Vietnamese workers have been killed in the violence.

In a Q&A with Vietnam Investment Review, a domestic news outlet, Bui Quang Vinh, the minister of planning and investment, called on local authorities to contain the violence and protect foreign investors’ interests.

“We are taking strong measures to protect foreign investors, as well as their assets,” Bui said when asked what the government is doing to prevent further violence in coming days. “We arrested ringleaders and rioters to put a halt to the escalating tensions.”

The outbreak of violence is one of the worst breakdowns in Sino-Vietnamese relations since the two nations fought a brief border war in 1979.

Bui went on to condemn violence against Chinese people, despite the Chinese government's behavior.

“We want Vietnamese people to understand that they should protect Chinese people and companies in Vietnam as well,” Bui said. “Even though the Chinese government has illegally placed the oil rig in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, Vietnam still wants to maintain its positive relationship with Chinese people and businesses.”

Social instability could do widespread harm to the nation’s economy, not to mention usher in a tense future for the entire region.