BEIJING May 16 (Reuters) - China's commerce minister will meet his Vietnamese counterpart on Friday to discuss deadly anti-Chinese riots that have taken a toll of the Asian giant's business interests in the Southeast Asian nation, a Chinese official said.
The discussions mark some of the highest-level contacts between China and Vietnam since the riots began this week, as the two countries contend with one of their worst breakdowns in ties since fighting a short border war in 1979.
The two leaders will meet at a conference of trade ministers in the coastal city of Qingdao, Chinese Commerce Ministry spokesman Shen Danyang told a news briefing.
China demands that Vietnam take steps to ensure the safety of Chinese people and businesses, as well as guard their property, he said.
"There have already been deaths of Chinese citizens and more than 90 people were injured," Shen added.
"It's expected that the number of casualties will increase even further. This has resulted in businesses halting work and huge property losses. China strongly condemns this."
The riots erupted after China towed an oil rig into waters claimed by both states. Factories perceived to be Chinese-owned have been set on fire. Up to 21 people have been killed and a huge foreign steel project has been set ablaze.
On Thursday, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung urged police and state and local authorities to restore order and ensure the safety of people and property in the affected areas.
China has repeatedly condemned the riots, accusing the Vietnamese government of turning a blind eye to looting and theft.
Vietnam's planning and investment ministry blamed the clashes on "extremists" and warned they could hurt the country's investment environment. (Reporting by Megha Rajagopalan and Wang Lan; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)