China said talks with Vietnam over a disputed oil rig in the South China Sea were “constructive,” while accusing Vietnam of hyping up the spat that has roiled relations between the countries.
Vietnam and China yesterday held their first high-level meeting on the issue since a Chinese state-owned company placed an oil rig in waters claimed by each nation on May 2, heightening territorial tensions across the South China Sea. China, which claims a large part of the area under a 1940s-era map, is increasing its claims to both the Paracel Islands off Vietnam’s coast and the more southerly Spratly Islands.
“What is pressing now is that the Vietnamese side should stop their disturbances against China’s operation, stop hyping up relevant issues, pulling up disputes and stop creating new tensions,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told journalists today in Beijing.
The meeting in Hanoi was candid and constructive and both sides agreed “to find a proper resolution through political and diplomatic means,” she said.
The talks took place after weeks of skirmishes between boats from the two countries that have been facing off in the area of the rig. On May 26 a Vietnamese fishing boat sank, with the sides blaming each other.
Vietnam Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh said after his talks yesterday with China’s State Councilor Yang Jiechi that Vietnam was seeking a “healthy” relationship with China.
“We wish to have dialogue to resolve the current complicated situation in the East Sea,” he said, using the Vietnamese name for the South China Sea.
Pham also demanded China withdraw the rig and its vessels from “the Vietnamese waters,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in an e-mailed statement.
Yang, in the talks with the Vietnamese officials, stressed that the islands are “China’s inherent territory” and its drilling operations in the area are legal, Hua said yesterday.
China may be preparing to step up the pressure, with a second rig being prepared for deployment in the area, Vietnamese news agency TuoiTrenews reported today.
“As far as I’ve learned, it is located in the coastal waters off China’s Hainan Island,” Hua said today when asked about the second rig.
China has 136 vessels, including five military ships, near the original oil rig off Vietnam’s coast, an area Vietnam says is its territorial waters, online news website VnExpress reported June 17, citing the Fishery Control Department. China has denied sending military ships to the area.
Chinese ships are moving in reverse into the path of Vietnamese vessels in an attempt to make it appear as though the Chinese boats are being rammed, Vietnam News reported June 11. A Chinese boat struck a Vietnamese fishery surveillance boat on June 7, VnExpress said.
The U.S. policy of rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific has prompted China to become more assertive, according to Marc Faber, publisher of the Gloom, Boom & Doom report, speaking today at the Ho Chi Minh forum.
“You have to put yourself in the chair of a Chinese leader,” Faber said. “You depend on oil imports from the Middle East. They’re vulnerable in the Straits of Malacca. They’re vulnerable up to the northern ports of China because they’re all surrounded by naval and military bases of America that have a security agreement with Japan. So of course you want to make sure that the access to the oil will always be there.”
A resolution of the crisis might only come after Vietnam accepts China’s conditions, something Vietnam seems unwilling to do, said Alexander Vuving, a security analyst at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii. China’s $8.2-trillion economy is more than 50 times the size of Vietnam’s.
“China will only agree to de-escalation if Vietnam makes a significant concession,” he said in an e-mail. “I expect that the talks will not resolve the oil rig crisis, though they will demonstrate that both China and Vietnam do not want this incident to affect the general contours of their broader relationship.”