TOKYO Vietnam is closely watching how the Philippines fares in an international court over its maritime territorial dispute with China, as Hanoi seeks to resolve peacefully its row with Beijing in the South China Sea, Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam said.
In an interview with Reuters on Thursday, Dam repeated Hanoi's demand that China withdraw a huge oil rig deployed by Chinese state oil company CNOOC 240 km (150 miles) off the coast of Vietnam in waters also claimed by Hanoi. But he said Vietnam was not setting a deadline for Beijing to meet its demand.
"When we are committed to a dialogue, we do not raise the question of a deadline," said Dam, who was in Japan to attend a conference on the future of Asia.
Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung told Reuters a day earlier that his government was considering various "defense options" against China, including legal action.
"We would like to exhaust all diplomatic channels and dialogue with China. At the moment, dialogue is still going on," Dam said, reiterating Hanoi's stance that China's action violated both Vietnamese sovereignty and international law.
In March, the Philippines, embroiled in a separate dispute with Beijing in the South China Sea, submitted a case to the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, challenging China's claims. It was the first time Beijing has been subjected to international legal scrutiny over the waters.
"We respect the Philippines' decision to use the arbitration court as a peaceful means," Dam said, "We have followed this case very closely and would like to use all measures provided by international law to protect our legitimate interests."
Dam also said Hanoi was committed to taking any steps needed to protect the interests of foreign investors and businesses after anti-Chinese violence flared last week.
Beijing's move was the latest confrontation between China and some of its neighbors over the potentially oil-and-gas rich South China Sea. Japan has its own tense dispute with China over tiny, uninhabited isles in the East China Sea.
Anti-Chinese rioting erupted in Vietnam last week, prompting Beijing to evacuate thousands of its nationals.
But, Dam said Hanoi was maintaining "normal trade relations" with China, but suggested Vietnam's economy could weather any fallout from the dispute. China is one of the largest sources of foreign investment in Vietnam and supplies the country with many key imports.
LIVING UP TO EXPECTATIONS
The spat between Vietnam and China is the worst breakdown in shaky but important ties between the two Communist states since a brief but bloody border war in 1979.
Dam, who was set to meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe later on Thursday, expressed thanks to Japan and other countries that have criticized China's actions.
Abe is keen to loosen the limits of Japan's pacifist constitution on its military so that Tokyo can play a bigger global and regional security role. Vietnam has a range of budding military relationships, including with the United States, but it has rejected formal alliances, unlike Japan and the Philippines, long-time Washington allies.
Dam reiterated that Vietnam would not engage in military alliances, but said Hanoi was keen to have aid from Japan and other countries to help manage its coastline and waters.
After a meeting with Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang in March, Abe announced that Japan would dispatch a survey mission to look into providing patrol vessels to Vietnam to further develop cooperation on maritime safety.
"Vietnam has a long coastal line. So we are in the great need for equipment, facilities, so that we can better manage our coastlines. Therefore we'd like to seek assistance, not only from Japan, but also from other countries," Dam said.
A Japanese government source said supplying patrol vessels would take time, although Japan as well as the United States would probably want to help Hanoi boost its maritime surveillance capabilities, largely to cope with pirates.
(Additional reporting by Nobuhiro Kubo; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)