Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cheng Guoping said no "clash" had
taken place since the dispute erupted at the weekend. He was
responding to Vietnam's assertions that Chinese vessels used water
cannon and intentionally rammed eight of its ships, seriously
damaging two, and wounding six sailors.
"I don't believe there was a clash. I think this was a difference of
opinion on some disputes," Cheng told reporters on the sidelines of
a forum in Beijing.
"The area in dispute is Chinese territory and of course we will
maintain the country's core interests and defend our sovereignty.
Vietnam should know this," Cheng said, adding that the two countries
can resolve disputes through "peaceful talks".
"This dispute is not about the entire relationship between China and
Vietnam. It's localized. It is controllable."
The two Communist nations have sought to put aside border disputes
and memories of a brief border war in 1979. Vietnam is usually
careful about comments against China, for which it relies on for
political support and bilateral trade that surpassed $50 billion in
Still, Hanoi has strongly condemned the operation of the drilling
rig, the first such action by Beijing in contested waters, and told
the owners, China's state-run oil company CNOOC, to remove it.
China has parked about 80 ships around the rig, Vietnamese officials
have said, adding that seven of them were military. Its foreign
ministry on Wednesday showed reporters what it said were video clips
of Chinese ships hitting Vietnamese Seaguard vessels.
Hanoi has also hinted at international legal action and said it had
requested dialogue with China's leadership, but was awaiting a
Daniel Russel, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia
and Pacific, reiterated Washington's concerns about "dangerous
conduct and intimidation by vessels" in the disputed area. He met
senior Vietnamese leaders on Thursday and said the row had been
discussed at length.
"It's fair to say both Vietnam and China have rights to claim
sovereignty over the Paracels (islands)," Russel told reporters in
"It is not for the U.S. to say which position is stronger. It's
within the rights of the United States and the international
community to call all parties to address the dispute in a peaceful
ROW ROCKS VIETNAM MARKETS
The row with its neighbor sent Vietnam's stocks markets plummeting
on Thursday. The benchmark VN Index in Ho Chi Minh City closed down
5.9 percent, its biggest one-day fall in nearly 13 years, while the
smaller Hanoi bourse dropped 6.4 percent, its biggest slump since
The country's State Securities Commission issued a statement urging
investors to respond rationally to news about the dispute.
"We suggest investors stay calm, careful and avoid being taken
advantage of," it said, without elaborating.
[to top of second column]
The row comes days after U.S. President Barack Obama visited Asia to
underline his commitment to allies including Japan and the
Philippines, both locked in territorial disputes with China.
Obama, promoting a strategic "pivot" towards the Asia-Pacific, also
visited South Korea and Malaysia, but not China. Washington has been
trying to court Vietnam as a new ally in the region with trade and
military incentives, ostensibly to lessen Hanoi's uneasy dependence
However, regional military and diplomatic sources who have been
briefed on U.S. navy movements said Washington had not deployed any
warships close to the disputed area, although routine surveillance
flights over the South China Sea were on-going.
Tensions are also brewing in another part of the sea, with Beijing
demanding that the Philippines release a Chinese fishing boat and
its crew seized on Tuesday off Half Moon Shoal in the Spratly
Philippine police said the boat and its crew were seized for hunting
sea turtles, which are protected under local laws.
In Hanoi, Vietnamese officials said diplomats from both sides had
met six times since Sunday to defuse the row but insisted Vietnam
would stand up to any Chinese aggression in the energy-rich waters.
Tran Cong Truc, a former head of the national border committee of
Vietnam, said his country was now in a tricky spot, as China had
infringed on not just its territory, but its economic assets.
Vietnam's recent history, he said, had shown it was not worth
picking a fight with.
"Vietnam is a peace loving country, but don't wake up the dragon,"
he said. "We never want war but it all depends on whether China
wants to start a war in the region or not."
(Additional reporting by Greg Torode in Hong Kong; Writing by
Michael Martina and Martin Petty; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.