BEIJING, June 30 A senior Chinese military
officer urged Vietnam to cool public ire and avoid escalating
tension between the two communist neighbours, an official
Chinese newspaper reported on Thursday, following weeks of
friction over the South China Sea.
The comments, part warning and part bridge-building, came
from Ma Xiaotian, deputy chief of the People's Liberation Army
General Staff, in a meeting with officers from Vietnam's
National Defence University, the Liberation Army Daily reported.
Ma did not directly raise a recent South China Sea flare-up
in his published remarks, but that was clearly his focus.
Ma said he "hoped that the Vietnamese side will
appropriately handle sensitive issues and correctly guide public
opinion and popular sentiment", the Chinese paper reported.
"Stop allowing developments to escalate and fester, and
avoid complicating problems so they expand and become
multilateral and internationalised," the paper paraphrased Ma as
telling the Vietnamese visitors.
Relations between China and Vietnam have been strained over
the past month because of a flare-up in a long-standing dispute
over sovereignty in the South China Sea, where they and other
governments stake rival claims over small islands.
Vietnam allowed demonstrations over the dispute outside
China's embassy in Hanoi, in a rare officially sanctioned
venting of public ire against China, which is both a powerful
neighbour and long-time rival. They briefly went to war in 1979.
China and Vietnam have traded accusations over what each
calls intrusions into its waters in a sea spanned by major
shipping lanes and thought to hold deposits of oil and gas.
Such accusations are not uncommon between China, Vietnam,
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan, which are also
involved in long-standing maritime disputes.
The latest tension flared last month when Hanoi said Chinese
boats had harassed a Vietnamese oil exploration ship. Beijing
said Vietnamese oil and gas exploration undermined its rights in
the South China Sea.
The two sides each conducted naval exercises in a show of
force but analysts say neither has an interest in pushing the
dispute to the point where military conflict is a serious risk.
In past days, they have been seeking to cool the tension.
On Sunday, China and Vietnam pledged to solve the dispute
through peaceful negotiations. But China remains
wary of the United States becoming more deeply involved in the
Tension between Beijing and Washington over the South China
Sea escalated last year when the Obama administration stressed
its support for a collective regional solution to the mosaic of
territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
China favors dealing with each dispute separately with
countries making territorial claims and denounced what it calls
"internationalising" the issue.
(Reporting by Chris Buckley)