| HANOI, June 18
HANOI, June 18 China's top diplomat began a
round of meetings with Vietnamese officials in Hanoi on
Wednesday as the two countries try to repair a rupture in ties
over China's positioning of an oil rig in disputed waters early
But many obstacles remain to resolving one of the worst
breakdowns in Sino-Vietnamese relations since the neighbours
fought a brief border war in 1979.
Among the challenges likely to come up in talks: The
continued presence of the rig in South China Sea waters claimed
by both countries as well as Beijing's demand for compensation
in the wake of anti-Chinese riots that erupted in Vietnam in the
days after the drilling platform was deployed.
Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi, who outranks the
foreign minister, first met Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and
Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh.
The two officials shook hands in front of reporters without
smiling and said little before the media was ushered out of the
room at a government guesthouse. Outside the building, neither
country's national flag was flying, as is customary when senior
foreign visitors attend meetings in Hanoi.
Yang will later hold talks with Prime Minister Nguyen Tan
Dung as well as the head of Vietnam's ruling communist party
before attending a dinner hosted by Minh.
No news conferences are planned.
Yang's visit is the highest-level direct contact between the
two sides since the rig was parked 240 km (150 miles) off the
coast of Vietnam on May 2.
Vietnam says the platform is in its 200-nautical mile
exclusive economic zone and on its continental shelf. China has
said the rig is operating completely within its waters.
Sino-Vietnamese ties have been largely frozen since early
May, with both sides accusing the other of inflaming the
situation. Dozens of Vietnamese and Chinese coastguard and
fishing vessels have repeatedly squared off around the rig,
resulting in a number of rammings and collisions.
Vietnam's official Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper said Chinese
ships did little to try to impede Vietnamese boats in the area
on Tuesday. It quoted a senior Vietnamese naval official as
saying the Chinese ships had been less aggressive, suggesting an
effort to dial down tensions on the water ahead of Yang's visit.
NOT ALWAYS NEIGHBOURLY
While communist parties rule both countries and trade has
taken off in recent years, Vietnam has long been suspicious of
its giant neighbour, especially over China's claims to almost
the entire South China Sea. Ordinary Vietnamese are also quickly
angered by any perceived bullying from China.
The Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have
claims to parts of the potentially energy-rich waters.
The Haiyang Shiyou 981 rig is drilling between the Paracel
Islands, which are occupied by China, and the Vietnamese coast.
Its deployment triggered anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam in
which four people were killed during a rampage of destruction
and looting of factories believed to be owned by Chinese
companies. Many of the factories were Taiwanese-owned.
Vietnam detained several hundred people in the aftermath of
the violence. Around a dozen people have been tried and given
jail terms of up to three years.
Prime Minister Dung last month said his government was
considering taking legal action against China. That drew an
angry response from Beijing.
China has said the rig will explore until mid-August. It has
a good chance of finding enough gas to put the area into
production, Chinese industry experts have said.
(Additional reporting by Nguyen Ha Minh; Writing by Dean Yates;
Editing by Nick Macfie)