Rift over claims in the South China Sea

China’s top diplomat on Wednesday met with Vietnam’s Foreign Minister in Hanoi for two-day talks aimed at defusing the rising tensions between the countries over conflicting claims in the South China Sea.

There were, however, no signs of a breakthrough in the deadlock that has strained relations as both Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi and Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Minh strongly reiterated their countries’ respective claims during the first day of meetings.

The recent tensions were sparked by the deployment of an oil rig by China in waters off the Paracel Islands, which are claimed by both countries. Vietnam dispatched vessels in response, arguing that the waters were within its 200 nautical mile-exclusive economic zone. China has since accused Vietnamese vessels of ramming its ships and disrupting the drilling. Beijing has been further angered by violence targeting Chinese companies in Vietnam.

That Mr. Yang travelled to Hanoi amid the heightened tensions has been the only indication in recent weeks that both governments may be prepared to move to defuse the issue, which has inflamed domestic anger in Vietnam and challenged the government of Xi Jinping in Beijing as it attempts to recalibrate China’s regional diplomacy.

China has recently clashed with the Philippines in the South China Sea and is also embroiled in a spat with Japan over the East China Sea, at a time when it is wary of moves by the U.S. to bolster its influence in the region.

Mr. Yang appeared to adopt a tough stance in Wednesday’s talks, telling his Vietnamese hosts that the recent strains were “due to Vietnam continuously and illegally disturbing oil rig operations.”

He said China would take “all necessary measures” to protect its rights, the official Xinhua news agency reported. At the same time, he also said both sides “should avoid making it amplified, complicated and internationalised.”

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