Vietnam Vows Stand Against China as Sea Collisions Continue

Vietnam accused Chinese ships of ramming one of its fishing boats yesterday, saying relations between the two countries have been “deeply damaged” by the their standoff over a disputed oil rig in the South China Sea.

Vietnam’s sovereignty and security as well as regional peace are “threatened” by China’s decision to place an oil rig off Vietnam’s coast on May 2, National Assembly Chairman Nguyen Sinh Hung told legislators in Hanoi. The friction at sea, which has led to collisions, the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat on May 26 and anti-China riots in Vietnam, is hurting ties between the two communist countries, Hung said in his address.

A high-level meeting between Vietnamese leaders and China’s top foreign policy official on June 18 failed to ease the daily sea skirmishes near the oil rig. The dispute is fraying ties between the communist countries and adding to regional tensions even as leaders from both sides promised to manage disagreements ‘‘using peaceful measures.’’

The sea strife poses the most serious foreign policy crisis for Vietnam’s leaders in decades, said Ha Hoang Hop, visiting senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

“Vietnam’s politburo is torn about their policy on Vietnam’s relationship with China,” he said in a phone interview. “The fear is China won’t compromise. The last chance for sitting down and trying to resolve the dispute in the South China Sea is this summer. Otherwise, Vietnam will bring the case to an international tribunal.”

‘Bitter Fruit’

Yang Jiechi, China’s top foreign policy official, said in Beijing on June 21 that his country “will never trade our core interests or swallow the bitter fruits that undermine our sovereignty, security and development interests.” China says Vietnam has sent armed vessels to disrupt its oil operation.

China claims about 90 percent of the South China Sea under a 1940s-era map, including the Paracel Islands off Vietnam’s coast and the Spratly Islands to the south. Vietnam and China on June 18 held their first high-level meeting on the rig issue after Yang visited Hanoi under the auspices of the annual China-Vietnam Steering Committee on Bilateral Relations.

In an interview posted on the government website June 21, Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang said his country “always treasures” its relationship with China. He also said Vietnam will “defend our land and sea.”

Sang quoted Vietnamese King Le Thanh Tong, “If you dare to concede even a single inch of the land of our ancestors to the enemy, it will be a crime deserving of death.”

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