Top China diplomat to visit Vietnam amid oil rig row

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's top diplomat will visit Vietnam this week, China's Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday, amid an increasingly ugly spat over a Chinese oil rig in the disputed South China Sea.

China's State Councilor Yang Jiechi, who outranks the foreign minister, will visit Hanoi on Wednesday, ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said at a regular briefing.“We hope that Vietnam keeps its eye on the broader picture, meets China halfway and appropriately resolves the present situation,” Ms Hua said, without directly mentioning the rig, which a Chinese state oil company deployed on May 2 in waters also claimed by Hanoi.

Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh said the topic of the rig would come up in the talks with Mr Yang. Ms Hua said Mr Yang would meet Vietnam’s foreign minister and other leaders.

It will be the highest-level direct contact between the two sides since the rig began its operations in May.

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 that killed at least four people.China claims about 90 per cent 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.