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Vietnam PM Defends China Policy

Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, poses for a photo with Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung before their meeting at the Government Office, Hanoi, Nov. 5, 2015.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has defended his government's policy toward China, following legislative concerns about relations with Beijing.

Speaking to legislators in a nationally televised broadcast Wednesday, Dung said Hanoi “will do its utmost to strengthen its friendship and cooperation with China,” but added that the Southeast Asian country will “defend its territorial sovereignty” in the South China Sea.

“Our consistent policies and stances have been repeated many times," he said. "We sincerely do our best to bolster mutual friendly ties and cooperation with China in all fields, but at the same time, we are determined to defend our independence, territorial sovereignty, islands [in the South China Sea] and national interests.”

Dung also said Vietnam seeks to resolve the disputes in contested waters in accordance with international laws and norms.

He spoke a day after lawmakers had questioned him about Vietnam’s close relations with China, including the issues of receiving aid and getting preferential loans from its northern neighbor.

Lawmaker Truong Trong Nghia from Ho Chi Minh City said Tuesday Vietnam’s economy tends to depend heavily on China “in many areas,” which threatens “Vietnam’s economic sovereignty.”

Nghia said that practice would put Vietnam in a difficult situation if it decides to bring China to the international arbitration tribunal in the future.

But Dung did not address directly the possibility of a court case against China.

Last year, when the relations between Hanoi and Beijing sunk to the lowest point in decades over a controversial oil rig, Dung threatened legal action against China, but has not taken any concrete steps since then.

Anti-China sentiments are still running high in Vietnam as Beijing seeks to strengthen its claim over virtually all of the South China Sea by carrying out massive artificial island building projects.

Speaking Wednesday on the sidelines of an economic summit of Asia Pacific nations in Manila, U.S. President Barack Obama said China must stop land reclamation in disputed waters.

In addition to Vietnam and the Philippines, China also has competing South China Sea claims with Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.