The visit by State Councilor Yang Jiechi, who outranks the foreign minister, will be the highest level direct contact between Beijing and Hanoi since a Chinese state oil company parked the rig in waters claimed by both countries on May 2.

Yang would attend an annual meeting on bilateral cooperation, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular briefing. Vietnamese officials said Yang would meet Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung as well as the head of the country's ruling communist party.

"We hope that Vietnam keeps its eye on the broader picture, meets China halfway and appropriately resolves the present situation," Hua said, without directly mentioning the rig.

Vietnam's Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh said the rig would be discussed.

Ties between the two neighbours have been largely frozen since early May, with both sides constantly accusing the other of inflaming the situation. Dozens of Vietnamese and Chinese coastguard and fishing vessels have repeatedly squared off around the rig, resulting in a number of collisions.

Ni Lexiong, a naval expert at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said he believed China was extending an olive branch to Vietnam.

"Of course our country wants to avoid conflict, but can this visit really solve all of the issues?" Ni said. "It's difficult to say to what extent there will be resolutions."

"Vietnam in this case went too far. It's up to them to choose not to incite conflict," he added.

The Haiyang Shiyou 981 rig is drilling between the Paracel Islands, which are occupied by China, and the Vietnamese coast.

Vietnam has said the rig is in its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone and on its continental shelf, while China says it is operating within its waters.

The rig's deployment triggered anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam last month in which four people were killed during a rampage of destruction and looting of factories believed to be owned by Chinese companies. Many of the factories were Taiwanese-owned.

China has demanded Vietnam provide compensation for damage caused in the riots and punish those responsible.

Vietnam detained several hundred people in the aftermath of the violence. Around a dozen people have been tried and given jail terms of up to three years.

Prime Minister Dung last month said his government was considering taking legal action against China following deployment of the rig. That drew an angry response from Beijing.

China has said the rig will explore in the area until mid-August.

Beijing claims about 90 percent of the South China Sea, but parts of the potentially energy-rich waters are also subject to claims by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

By Ben Blanchard - Reuters - June 17, 2014

Vietnam, China make no progress in oil rig talks

HANOI — A top Chinese diplomat and Vietnamese officials made no progress in talks Wednesday about an increasingly bitter confrontation over a giant oil rig China deployed in the disputed South China Sea, officials said.

State Councilor Yang Jiechi is the most senior Chinese diplomat to visit Vietnam since China placed the rig off the Vietnamese coast last month. Both countries have accused the other of violating their territorial rights and instigating clashes between ships around the rig.

A Vietnamese official familiar with the talks said no progress was made during the discussion between Yang and Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

He said the two sides still insisted on their opposing positions.

China's Foreign Ministry said Yang blamed Vietnam for interfering with the rig's operations and causing the present difficulties in their relations.

Yang said Vietnam should stop the disruptions and take measures to secure Chinese property and people in Vietnam, according to an account of his remarks released by ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.

The rig's deployment in early May triggered anti-China demonstrations and some turned to riots, which resulted in the deaths of five Chinese nationals and injuries to hundreds more. Hundreds of factories were damaged and dozens were burned. Many of them were built with Taiwanese investment.

Yang also met with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong.

Dung told Yang that China's placement of the oil rig in Vietnamese-claimed waters was a "grave violation of Vietnamese sovereignty, .... threatening peace, security, maritime and aviation safety in the region," Vietnam's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. It said he demanded that China withdraw the rig and the vessels escorting it and resolve disputes by peaceful means in accordance with international law.

The two ideological allies fought a brief border war in 1979, and skirmishes also occurred in 1988 when China used force to occupy 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.

The Associated Press - June 18, 2014

For Vietnam and China, no easing of tensions

HONG KONG — China and Vietnam exchanged sharp views Wednesday in their dispute over a Chinese oil rig deployed in contested waters in the South China Sea near Vietnam’s coast and appear to have made little headway in cooling tensions, according to accounts by both governments summarizing a top-level meeting in Hanoi.

China’s state councilor, Yang Jiechi, accused Vietnam, which has sent ships to the area, of conducting “unlawful interference” in the operations of the rig, and told Vietnam that China would “take all necessary measures to safeguard its national sovereignty,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in the statement.

Vietnam’s prime minister, Nguyen Tan Dung, said that China had instead violated Vietnam’s sovereignty, and added that China had breached international and regional agreements on the South China Sea. The Chinese had also “hurt the feelings of the people of Vietnam.”

The uncompromising language was unusual for diplomatic statements describing discussions between two Communist countries, and reflected the unyielding positions since China sent the rig last month to a position 120 miles off the coast of Vietnam and close to the Paracel Islands, which both countries claim. The statements suggested the meeting failed to get beyond oft-repeated arguments.

Mr. Yang, China’s most senior diplomat and a former foreign minister, met in Hanoi not only with the prime minister, but also with Vietnam’s foreign minister, Pham Binh Minh, and the general secretary of the Communist Party, Nguyen Phu Trong.

Unlike China, Vietnam called for negotiations under the auspices of the Convention on the Law of the Sea, a position Vietnam has adopted since the start of the recent conflict. But the Chinese diplomat insisted that there was no dispute over the Paracel Islands. The Chinese Foreign Ministry made no reference to the possibility of negotiations, a basic tenet of China in matters to do with the South China Sea.

Vietnam says the waters around the oil rig are its territory because they fall within its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, while China bases its claim on the waters’ proximity to the Paracels.

To protect the rig, China has dispatched a large contingent of Coast Guard vessels that have established a perimeter. A smaller flotilla of Vietnamese Coast Guard and fishing boats try to penetrate the cordon, and the vessels from each side ram each other regularly.

Military ships from both sides are in the general area of the rig, according to American officials. China seized control of the southern Paracel Islands from South Vietnam in a war in 1974.

To back up its claim to the Paracels, China recently released a 1958 letter from Pham Van Dong, then the prime minister of Vietnam, to Premier Zhou Enlai of China. It said that Vietnam recognized China’s sovereignty over the islands. Vietnam has argued the letter has no validity because it was written under duress.

The arrival of the rig so close to the Paracels has become a defining event in the mounting campaign by China to control vast portions of the South China Sea, a vital waterway for international commerce where other countries also have claims.

The standoff led to violent protests in Vietnam.

Before the Hanoi meeting, the first at a senior level since the standoff at sea started last month, experts predicted both sides would stick to their views.

“China and Vietnam have been working on their relationship for 4,000 years, and some days the work goes better than others,” said Brantly Womack, a professor of foreign affairs at the University of Virginia who has written extensively on the countries.

Mr. Yang, in particular, is known as a fierce proponent of China’s rights to large parts of the South China Sea.

He took exception in 2010 at a gathering of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Hanoi when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton raised the issue of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and the need to resolve the various territorial disputes through mediation. In her new book, “Hard Choices,” Mrs. Clinton quotes him as telling delegates that “China is a big country, bigger than any other countries here.”

Mrs. Clinton noted that Mr. Yang’s attitude of China’s superiority toward its Asian neighbors did not go down well.

By Jane Perlez - The New York Times - June 18, 2014