HANOI, VIETNAM - Australia and Vietnam on Friday expressed serious concern over tensions in the disputed South China Sea, where Hanoi says China's gas survey ship has infringed on its territory and has disrupted Vietnam's exploration activities.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison met in Hanoi with his counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc and both leaders called for respect of international law and freedom of navigation.
Earlier the United States said it was deeply concerned that China is continuing to interfere with Vietnam's longstanding oil and gas activities in Vietnam's exclusive economic zone. China claims the South China Sea virtually in its entirety and has deployed a survey vessel with armed escorts into waters off Vietnam, ignoring Hanoi's calls to leave the area.
“We all need to uphold) principles that relate to freedom of navigation, freedom of overfly, ensuring that nations can pursuit and develop the opportunities that exist within their EEZ and within their sea boundaries, and they can go about that business in a way that is uninhabited and supported and upheld by the regional architecture and the rule of law that support that free conduct of activities,” Morrison told reporters.
Phuc said that the countries were united in their position on the South China Sea, where China has rattled smaller neighbors by constructing seven man-made islands in the disputed waters and equipped them with military runways and outposts.
In Beijing Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang did not directly address the U.S. accusations but said China opposed what he described as a U.S. campaign aimed at division.
“This is to drive a wedge between China and other countries and it is ill-intentioned. The aim is to create chaos in the situation in the South China Sea and damage regional peace and stability. China firmly opposes this,'' Geng said.
Morrison and Phuc stopped short of explicitly naming China.
“I am not here to make accusations or do anything of that nature. We do not take sides,” Morrison said. Both he and Phuc urged all parties to refrain from the threat or use of force in settling disputes in accordance with international law.
Morrison said he didn't want to agree or disagree with the U.S., stressing that Australia's position was consistent.
“We are carefully calibrated with what we say but most important, respectful,” he said.