China's official Xinhua News Agency reported the first of four Chinese vessels left a Vietnamese port Monday with 989 evacuees. The Chinese government has sent four ships each with a capacity of 1,000 passengers to Vietnam to respond to ongoing anti-Chinese demonstrations.
Disputes erupted in early May when China dispatched an oil rig to waters disputed by Vietnam.
The U.S. government, which says it has no stance on territorial claims, said the Chinese action was provocative and indicative of a broader trend in the disputes Beijing has with its Asian neighbors over territory in the South China Sea.
Beijing last week said it would continue drilling for oil in the disputed area, despite anti-Chinese rioting in Vietnam.
A Chinese worker died in an attack on a Taiwanese-owned steel mill last week, and 150 people were injured as protesters attacked a Taiwanese-owned mill.