China urged Vietnam yesterday to halt its unilateral oil and gas development in waters with overlapping sovereignty claims and to stop harassing Chinese vessels there to ensure that the ongoing maritime border talks can bear fruit.
Beijing also refuted allegations Hanoi made against Chinese fishing boats and said their dispersion by Vietnamese warships in the disputed waters was groundless.
According to Viet Nam News, PetroVietnam's geological survey vessel, the Binh Minh 2, was operating in Vietnamese territorial waters at the end of November when it was approached by a number of Chinese fishing vessels that cut its exploration cables, Xinhua reported.
Beijing must "immediately end this wrongdoing and not allow similar acts to reoccur", Luong Thanh Nghi, Hanoi's ministry of foreign affairs spokesman, said on Tuesday, adding that the incident "violated Vietnam's sovereignty".
During a daily news conference in Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei rejected those assertions as "not in accordance with the facts".
"The waters mentioned by the Vietnamese are near the Beibu Gulf, in an area where China and Vietnam have overlapping sovereignty claims, and the Chinese ships were conducting routine fishing activity in those waters but were driven away by Vietnamese military vessels," he said.
Hong confirmed that the two countries are engaged in negotiations about the maritime border and joint development of the waters.
"Vietnam should stop its unilateral development of oil and gas in the areas and stop disturbing Chinese fishing ships so as to create a favourable atmosphere for negotiations," Hong said.
Jia Duqiang, a researcher of Southeast Asian studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said conflicts are inevitable in the disputed waters because Vietnam's interest in the energy resources has been mounting in recent years.
"As both sides elaborate on their plans for oil and gas development [in the waters], dialogue and substantial contact become necessary," Jia said.
Beijing and Hanoi expressed hope in a joint statement in 2005 that they would soon begin border talks on the waters at the entrance of the Beibu Gulf.
On May 21 and 22, they held the first round of negotiations in Hanoi on the border and joint exploitation of the waters.
Xinhua contributed to this story.
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