Vietnam, China lock horns over sea row

Agence France-Presse

Posted at May 20 2014 10:51 PM | Updated as of May 21 2014 06:51 AM

NAYPYIDAW - Vietnamese and Chinese officials have locked horns over a maritime dispute that sparked deadly rioting in Vietnam, with Hanoi's defense minister Tuesday saying the neighbors have yet to reach any agreement.

Tensions remain high in the region after an eruption of anti-China rage in Vietnam over Beijing's controversial plans to drill for oil in contested waters, in which angry mobs last week attacked hundreds of foreign-owned businesses, killing two Chinese nationals.

China responded by evacuating thousands of its citizens from Vietnam, as relations between the neighbors sank to their lowest levels in decades.

Vietnamese defense minister Phung Quang Thanh said the two sides had discussed the placement of the giant rig in the disputed territory and stressed the need for a "peaceful resolution" to the row during meetings .

"We still have different point of views," he told reporters during meetings of Association of Southeast Asian Nations defense ministers in the Myanmar capital Naypyidaw on Tuesday, which were also attended by China.

Informal ministerial talks were dominated by the South China Sea, which is also claimed in part by ASEAN members the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia as well as Taiwan.

Last week leaders of the 10-nation bloc presented a rare united front by expressing "serious concern" over disputes in the waters, which are home to key shipping lanes and thought to contain vast energy reserves.

Washington has also warned about the potential for tensions to escalate.

ASEAN defense ministers had a "frank and candid exchange of views on regional and international security," according to a statement released Tuesday after the meeting.

Myanmar Defense Minister Wai Lwin told reporters that talks between Vietnam, China and the Philippines were "constructive".

"Vietnamese authorities understand that the situation can affect their economy," he said, adding that Thanh had insisted that "they can control the situation".

Fearing an impact on vital foreign investment, Vietnamese authorities deployed hundreds of security personnel in the streets leading to the sprawling Chinese embassy in Hanoi on Sunday, restricting access to the neighborhood and other suspected protest sites.

The authoritarian communist regime usually limits expression of public discontent.

But the violence and scope of the riots that left some 140 people injured and spread across dozens of provinces, appeared to have taken the country by surprise.

Dozens of Chinese and Vietnamese vessels have engaged in repeated skirmishes near the rig, including reported rammings and the use of water cannon.