HANOI, Vietnam – Talks between a top Chinese diplomat and Vietnamese officials on Wednesday produced no breakthrough in the impasse over an increasingly bitter confrontation in the disputed South China Sea, a Vietnamese official said.
State Councilor Yang Jiechi was the most senior Chinese diplomat to visit Vietnam since China’s deployment of a giant oil rig off the Vietnamese coast last month increased tensions between the neighbors.
The official, familiar with the talks, said that no progress was made during the discussion between Yang and Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh, who is also foreign minister. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
He said that the two sides still insisted on their opposing positions.
Before leaving Hanoi on Wednesday evening, Yang was scheduled to meet Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and Communist Party of Vietnam General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, to be followed by dinner hosted by Minh.
Earlier Wednesday, Yang told Minh at the beginning of their talks where journalists were allowed a five-minute photo opportunity that their countries are experiencing a “difficult” relationship and that promoting bilateral relations was a goal of the Communist neighbors.
“It can be said that developing China-Vietnam relations is the common desire of the two parties, two governments, two states and two peoples of China and Vietnam,” Yang said.
He added, “The China-Vietnam relationship is experiencing difficulties and I came to Vietnam this time at the order of our (Communist Party) Central Committee to have frank, broad and deep discussions with Comrade Pham Binh Minh.”
Minh told Yang that the meeting, the highest direct contact since the May standoff over the oil installation, showed a commitment to resolving the dispute.
China and Vietnam accuse each other of ramming ships near the oil rig.
Vietnam said the use of the oil rig violates its sovereignty and has demanded that China withdraw it, while China says Vietnam should stop harassing what it calls a regular oil drilling activity.
China’s placement of the oil rig in early May triggered anti-China demonstrations in many parts of Vietnam and some turned to riots, which resulted in the deaths of five Chinese nationals and injures to hundreds more. Rioters targeted factories believed to be Chinese owned. Hundreds of factories were damaged and dozens were burnt. Many of them were built with Taiwanese investment.
Prime Minister Dung said last month that Vietnam was considering legal action against the Chinese move.
The two ideological allies fought a brief but bloody border war in 1979, and skirmishes also occurred in 1988 when China used force to occupy the Johnson South reef in the Spratlys. Relations were normalized in 1991.
China claims most of the South China Sea, rich in natural resources and one of the world’s busiest sea lanes, bringing it into disputes with neighbors, including the Philippines, a U.S. ally.