Dung's comments, given in a written response to questions from
Reuters, were the first time he has suggested Vietnam would take
legal measures, and drew an angry response from China, which
insisted the rig was in its sovereign waters.
"Vietnam is considering various defense options, including legal
actions in accordance with international law," Dung said in an email
sent late on Wednesday, while on a visit to Manila. He did not
elaborate on the other options being considered.
"I wish to underscore that Vietnam will resolutely defend its
sovereignty and legitimate interests because territorial
sovereignty, including sovereignty of its maritime zones and
islands, is sacred," he said.
China accused Vietnam of stoking regional tensions.
"Now they are distorting the facts, conflating right and wrong on
the global stage, blackening China and making unreasonable
accusations against China," foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told
a regular news briefing.
"Just who is the one who is repeatedly challenging other countries'
sovereignty? Who is the one who is causing tensions in the seas? Who
on earth is destroying peace and stability in the South China Sea?
Facts speak louder than words."
In March, the Philippines submitted a case to an arbitration
tribunal in The Hague, challenging China's claims to the South China
Sea. It was the first time Beijing has been subjected to
international legal scrutiny over the waters.
Beijing has refused to participate in the case and warned Manila
that its submission would seriously damage ties.
Anti-Chinese violence flared in Vietnam last week after a $1 billion
deepwater rig owned by China's state-run CNOOC oil company was
parked 240 km (150 miles) off the coast of Vietnam.
Hanoi says the rig is in its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic
zone and on its continental shelf. China has said the rig was
operating completely within its waters.
The spat is the worst breakdown in ties between the two Communist
states since a brief border war in 1979.
"My own sense is that if the Vietnamese government start to ratchet
up their tactics, the Chinese probably are not going to blink," said
Christopher Johnson, a former senior China analyst at the CIA, now
at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
"So you could have a very difficult situation."
The rig move was the latest in a series of confrontations between
China and some of its neighbours. Washington has sharpened rhetoric
towards Beijing, describing a pattern of "provocative" actions by
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry discussed the situation by
telephone with Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister
Pham Binh Minh on Wednesday, the two governments said. Kerry also
invited Minh to visit Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman
Jen Psaki said.
Dung, in some of his strongest comments yet on the breakdown in ties
with Beijing, said that while Vietnam had sought to use dialogue to
settle the situation, the response from China had been an increase
in force and intimidation.
"There is a vast gap between the words and deeds of China," he said.
He followed up those remarks in a speech at the World Economic Forum
on East Asia in which he warned the maritime territorial tensions
could endanger global trade.
"The risk of conflict will disrupt these huge flows of goods, and
have unforeseeable impact on regional and world economies," he said.
"It may even reverse the trend of global economic recovery."
[to top of second column]
Both sides have traded accusations over who was to blame for a
series of collisions between Vietnamese and Chinese vessels in
waters near the oil rig earlier this month.
China claims about 90 percent of the South China Sea, displaying its
reach on official maps with a so-called nine-dash line that
stretches deep into the maritime heart of Southeast Asia. The
Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims
to parts of the potentially energy-rich waters.
Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam told Reuters on Thursday
that Hanoi had been staying well-briefed on the progress of Manila's
"We have followed this case very closely and would like to use all
measures provided by international law to protect our legitimate
interests," he said in an interview in Tokyo.
Diplomatic sources in Vietnam have previously told Reuters that
China put pressure on Hanoi over joining the Philippine case.
Manila is seeking a ruling to confirm its right to exploit the
waters in its exclusive economic zone as allowed under the U.N.
Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
A ruling against China could prompt other claimants to challenge
Beijing, experts say, although Manila has said it does not expect
the tribunal to reach a decision before the end of 2015.
Any ruling would be unenforceable because there is no body under
UNCLOS to police such decisions, legal experts say.
CHINA "BROUGHT US TOGETHER"
To try to keep up pressure on Beijing, diplomats said Vietnam might
host a meeting with Philippine and Malaysian officials at the end of
the month to discuss how to respond to China, underscoring the
nascent coordination among the three countries. Meetings in February
and March had discussed the Philippine legal case.
A senior Malaysian diplomatic source told Reuters last week that
China's assertiveness had given momentum to the three-way talks and
"brought us together", but he played down the discussions as little
more than "chit chat" at this stage.
Malaysia had no intention of filing a legal case against China, the
The growing Manila-Hanoi co-operation was a potential turning point
in the tensions over the South China Sea that have intensified over
the last five years said Carl Thayer of the Australian Defence Force
Academy in Canberra.
"Vietnam may be siding up to the U.S. via the Philippines," he said.
"A joint or two separate legal challenges would really put China on
the spot, and outside international law."
(Additional reporting by Martin Petty in BANGKOK, Stuart Grudgings
in KUALA LUMPUR, Greg Torode in HONG KONG, Sui-Lee Wee in BEIJING
and Lesley Wroughton in WASHINGTON; Writing by Dean Yates and Alex
Richardson; Editing by Paul Tait and Ron Popeski)
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