HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — A top Chinese diplomat will visit Vietnam this week after China's deployment of a giant oil rig off Vietnam's coast in May increased tensions.
Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi and Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh will discuss the oil rig when they meet at an annual bilateral event Yang is attending, Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh told reporters Monday.
Yang's visit will be the highest-level meeting between the two governments since the rig was deployed on May 1.
"As we have affirmed many times that Vietnam has always been patient to look for dialogues with China to peacefully resolve the tension in the East Sea," Binh said referring to the South China Sea. "This meeting, therefore, will surely be a channel and an event the two sides could discuss the issue to find out solutions for the current tension."
Minh and Yang spoke by phone in early May.
Vietnamese Foreign Ministry said in a statement at the time that Minh denounced China's placement of the oil rig, saying it seriously violated Vietnam's sovereignty and demanding China immediately withdraw the oil rig and its escorting vessels.
China's official Xinhua News Agency, however, quoted Yang as telling Minh that Vietnam should stop harassing China's normal drilling operations.
Col. Ngo Ngoc Thu, deputy commander of Vietnam's coast guard, dismissed China's allegations that Vietnamese vessels rammed Chinese ships 1,547 times. He said 36 Vietnamese vessels were rammed and damaged and that 15 Vietnamese fisheries patrol staff and two fishermen were injured.
He disputed Chinese accusations that Vietnamese divers left obstacles in the water to disrupt drilling operations. He said Vietnam did not use divers near the rig but that fishermen were forced to leave behind nets and other equipment because Chinese ships used water cannons to force the fishing boats to retreat.