WASHINGTON — Chinese and Vietnamese officials meeting in Hanoi Wednesday have failed to resolve the most recent flare-up in a long-standing maritime conflict in the South China Sea.
Both sides maintained their positions in the first high-level talks since the May deployment of a Chinese state-run oil rig that led to a standoff at sea and deadly anti-China protests in Vietnam.
China's Foreign Ministry quotes State Councilor and top diplomat Yang Jiechi as telling Vietnam to stop disturbing Chinese operations in the area and "hyping up" disputes over an island chain he called "China's inherent territory."
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, who met with Yang Wednesday, is quoted by the official Vietnam News Agency as saying China is violating international law. He called for the withdrawal of the Chinese rig and ships, which are scheduled to remain in the area until mid-August.
Vietnam says Chinese ships sank one of its vessels and damaged 24 others, as well as injured 12 members of its fisheries surveillance force; but, China accuses Vietnamese ships of being the aggressors, saying they have rammed Chinese vessels 120 times since early May.
Yang earlier acknowledged that the dispute is damaging relations between the two communist-led countries, which fought a bloody, three-week border battle in 1979.
"China and Vietnam relations are experiencing a difficult period. On this trip, as appointed by our Central Committee, I am to discuss candidly and thoroughly with Mr. Pham Binh Minh the two countries' relations and current issues in the South China Sea," said Yang.
The head of Vietnam’s Communist Party, Nguyen Phu Trong, who also met with Yang on Wednesday, said Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly archipelagos in the South China Sea, which the Vietnamese call the East Sea, is “unchanged and unchangeable,” according to the official Vietnam News Agency.
Carl Thayer, an expert on the South China Sea at the Australian Defense Force Academy, said Wednesday's meeting addressed other issues between the two countries than just the conflict, and was never intended to be a reconciliation.
"...The meeting itself, which touched on the oil rig, didn't solve anything, but it shouldn't have been expected to," said Thayer. "This is just the preliminary round. Both sides laying down their markers and China probably using this to intimidate Vietnam."
Thayer added that further attempts to manage the crisis will not happen until the rig is moved, reportedly in mid-August.
The United States has said it does not take sides in the dispute and wants countries in the region to settle their differences peacefully.
China's territorial claims in the South China Sea overlap with those of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.
Tra Mi contributed to this report from Washington.
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.