A senior Chinese official told Hanoi yesterday to stop "hyping up" tensions over an oil rig that Beijing has placed off Vietnam's coast, in remarks indicating that the two countries are still trapped in a diplomatic quagmire over the South China Sea.
State Councillor Yang Jiechi was in Hanoi for the highest-level talks between the two countries since the oil rig deployment early last month caused a nosedive in relations.
The discussions were seen as an attempt to contain the worst diplomatic crisis between the ideological allies in decades. But analysts said Yang's sharp remarks indicated no progress was made during the one-day trip.
In a move that could further stoke tensions, China's Marine Safety Administration announced on its website that another drilling platform, Nanhai No9, would be moved close to Vietnam's coast by tomorrow.
Coordinates released by the administration indicate the area is close to the Gulf of Tonkin, where the countries are negotiating on possible joint development projects. It is not clear if the rig will be in disputed waters.
During a meeting with Yang, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung urged China to withdraw the rig Haiyang 981 and told Yang that China's behaviour severely violated Vietnam's sovereignty and offended the Vietnamese people, according to the state-run Vietnam News Agency.
But in another meeting with Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh, Yang reiterated that oil rig 981 had been operating within an area of Chinese sovereignty and the current difficulty in the bilateral relationship was a result of Vietnam's "illegal disruptions", according to a summary of the meeting posted on the Chinese foreign ministry's website.
China would adopt all necessary measures to protect its sovereignty and maritime rights, and Vietnam should stop "illegally" disrupting the Chinese operation, Yang said, indicating the oil rig would remain in the location until August 15 as planned.
Vietnam, he added, should stop hyping up the problems and properly handle the aftermath of anti-China riots last month.
The oil platform is about 32km from the China-controlled Paracel Islands, which Vietnam also claims, and 278km from the Vietnam coast. Its deployment has badly strained relations and ships of the two countries, both government and civilian, have frequently clashed or collided.
Anti-China protests broke out in several Vietnamese cities last month, claiming four lives. Scores of foreign-invested factories were also badly damaged during the demonstrations.
Vietnam has threatened to take the maritime dispute with China to international arbitration. It claims the oil rig is within its Exclusive Economic Zone under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and should be relocated.
Minh told Yang Vietnam was willing to improve relations with China and to keep the situation under control, according to the Chinese foreign ministry. It described the meeting as "candid" and "constructive".
Zhang Jie, an expert on regional security with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Yang's remarks indicated the two sides were nowhere near finding a solution to the current impasse.
"This indicates that no agreement was achieved and both sides remain unwilling to budge on their stance," Zhang said.
Yang is the highest-ranking official in China overseeing foreign affairs.
"The majority of Vietnam's politburo still favours accommodation with China," said Carl Thayer, an expert on Vietnam at the Australian Defence Force Academy.
"They are stuck with the question of do you get out of this gracefully and then have working relations with China."