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China, Vietnam to hold 1st talks in oil rig dispute

HANOI, Vietnam -- A top Chinese diplomat arrived in Vietnam on Tuesday for the first high-level meeting between the two countries since China's deployment of a giant oil rig off the Vietnamese coast last month increased tensions between the neighbors.

Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi is scheduled to have talks with Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh on Wednesday. He also is to meet with Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and General Secretary of the Communist Party Nguyen Phu Trong, Vietnam's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Yang's visit is the highest-level meeting between the two governments since the rig was deployed May 1, sparking anti-China riots in Vietnam that killed five Chinese nationals and injured hundreds more.

Yang and Minh will discuss the oil rig when they meet at an annual bilateral event Yang is attending, Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh told reporters Monday.

"As we have affirmed many times, Vietnam has always been patient to look for dialogue 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 where the two sides can discuss the issue to find solutions to the current tension."

Minh and Yang spoke by phone in early May. Vietnam's Foreign Ministry said at the time that Minh denounced China's placement of the oil rig, saying it seriously violated Vietnam's sovereignty, and demanded that China immediately withdraw the 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.

China has said its ships have been rammed more than 1,500 times by Vietnamese vessels since the dispute began. On Monday, Col. Ngo Ngoc Thu, deputy commander of Vietnam's coast guard, dismissed the allegations, saying that 36 Vietnamese vessels have been rammed, and that 15 Vietnamese fisheries patrol staff and two fishermen have been injured.

Thu also 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.

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