China wants to avoid court over maritime disputes, says Vietnam official

Official claims Beijing made several requests not to take maritime dispute to arbitration

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 June, 2014, 4:42am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 June, 2014, 7:49am

China has repeatedly asked Vietnam not to take the two countries' maritime territorial dispute to an international court, a top Vietnamese military official said yesterday.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Deputy Defence Minister Nguyen Chi Vinh said the country had yet to decide when to seek international arbitration but the decision hinged on China's actions in the South China Sea.

"They [China] have asked us several times not to bring the case to international court," Vinh said in comments to Japanese media that were provided to the South China Morning Post.

"Our response was that it's up to China's activities and behaviour; if they continue to push us, we have no choice. This [legal] option is also in accordance with international law."

Vinh's remarks came after Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said that his country had prepared evidence for a legal suit challenging China's claim to waters off the Vietnamese coast and was considering the best time to file it.

Vinh held a bilateral meeting with Wang Guanzhong , deputy chief of general staff of the People's Liberation Party, on Friday in Singapore.

Chinese defence spokesman Yang Yujun said Wang and Vinh "candidly exchanged views" on security issues. But Yang would not confirm whether the issue of international arbitration was raised.

Relations between the long-time ideological allies have nosedived since China parked a state-owned oil rig in disputed waters off Vietnam's coast on May 1. The deployment, which Hanoi has said is a violation of its sovereignty, prompted large-scale anti-China protests in Vietnam.

The episode has also seen Hanoi step up its efforts to galvanise international support for its case.

Vinh said remarks by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel at the regional security forum had "great value and significance" in forcing China back to the negotiating table.

The strong remarks from Japan and the US, Vinh added, would also remind Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries that "the rig is not for Vietnam, it's for other countries as well".

China has responded fiercely to speeches by Abe and Hagel, who criticised Beijing for its "unilateral" and "destabilising" behaviour in its surrounding waters.

Additional reporting by Reuters