(Adds Chinese military think-tank report)
By Ho Binh Minh and Ben Blanchard
HANOI/BEIJING, June 18 China's top diplomat
scolded Vietnamese officials during talks in Hanoi on Wednesday
for "hyping up" a row over a Chinese oil rig drilling in
disputed waters in the South China Sea, in tough comments that
suggest relations will remain rocky.
State Councilor Yang Jiechi also told his hosts that the
rig's activities in waters also claimed by Vietnam were
"completely legal", China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua
Chunying said at a daily briefing in Beijing.
Yang, who outranks the country's foreign minister, made the
remarks in a meeting with Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and
Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh.
Before the visit, experts had said many obstacles remained
to resolving one of the worst breakdowns in Sino-Vietnamese
relations since the neighbours fought a brief war in 1979.
Among them is Beijing's demand for compensation in the wake
of anti-Chinese riots that erupted in Vietnam after the drilling
platform was deployed on May 2.
"The most urgent thing is for Vietnam to stop its
interference and harassment, stop hyping up the issue and stop
whipping up disagreement to create new disputes, and properly
deal with the aftermath of the recent serious incidents of
violence," Hua said, describing Yang's comments.
Yang later met Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and was due to
have talks with the head of Vietnam's ruling communist party
before attending a dinner hosted by Minh.
No news conferences are planned. Vietnam has not made a
statement about the talks.
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.
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 near the
Paracel Islands, which are occupied by China.
"State Councilor Yang Jiechi said China and Vietnam's
relations are facing difficulties at the moment because for more
than a month, Vietnam has been continually illegally harassing
Chinese drilling operations in the waters near the Paracel
Islands," Hua said.
"Yang stressed that the Paracel Islands are China's inherent
territory and that there exists no dispute about this."
Nevertheless, both sides believed the talks were "frank and
constructive", Hua added.
Earlier, Yang and Minh shook hands in front of reporters
without smiling 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.
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 tension ahead of Yang's visit.
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, and China
has looked on with suspicion at what it sees as U.S. moves to
"provoke" tension by supporting its regional allies, notably
Vietnam and the Philippines.
"The United States keeps pushing its pivot to the Asia
Pacific strategy, provoking relevant countries to rely on U.S.
strength and use violence to scheme at sea, which worsens the
problem and increases antagonism," state media on Wednesday
quoted a Chinese military think-tank as saying in a report.
"China's maritime development and security challenge is
suddenly very severe," the Defence Policy Research Center of the
Academy of Military Sciences of the People's Liberation Army
said in its report.
The deployment of the Haiyang Shiyou 981 rig 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
Vietnam detained several hundred people after the violence.
About 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 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 Megha
Rajagopalan; Editing by Dean Yates and Robert Birsel)