* Vietnam says will "resolutely defend its sovereignty"
* China says Vietnam making "irresponsible accusations"
* Philippines submitted arbitration case against China in
* Anti-China violence flared in Vietnam last week
* Vietnam, Philippines and Malaysia may meet on China later
(Updates with Chinese reaction, Vietnam deputy PM interview,
By Rosemarie Francisco and Manuel Mogato
MANILA, May 22 Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen
Tan Dung said his government was considering various "defence
options" against China, including legal action, following the
deployment of a Chinese oil rig to waters in the South China Sea
that Hanoi also claims.
Dung's comments, given in a written response to questions
from Reuters, were the first time he has suggested Vietnam would
take legal measures, and drew an angry response from China,
which insisted the rig was in its sovereign waters.
"Vietnam is considering various defence options, including
legal actions in accordance with international law," Dung said
in an email sent late on Wednesday, while on a visit to Manila.
He did not elaborate on the other options being considered.
"I wish to underscore that Vietnam will resolutely defend
its sovereignty and legitimate interests because territorial
sovereignty, including sovereignty of its maritime zones and
islands, is sacred," he said.
China accused Vietnam of stoking regional tensions.
"Now they are distorting the facts, conflating right and
wrong on the global stage, blackening China and making
unreasonable accusations against China," foreign ministry
spokesman Hong Lei told a regular news briefing.
"Just who is the one who is repeatedly challenging other
countries' sovereignty? Who is the one who is causing tensions
in the seas? Who on earth is destroying peace and stability in
the South China Sea? Facts speak louder than words."
In March, the Philippines submitted a case to an arbitration
tribunal in The Hague, challenging China's claims to the South
China Sea. It was the first time Beijing has been subjected to
international legal scrutiny over the waters.
Beijing has refused to participate in the case and warned
Manila that its submission would seriously damage ties.
Anti-Chinese violence flared in Vietnam last week after a $1
billion deepwater rig owned by China's state-run CNOOC oil
company was parked 240 km (150 miles) off the coast of Vietnam.
Hanoi says the rig is in its 200-nautical mile exclusive
economic zone and on its continental shelf. China has said the
rig was operating completely within its waters.
The spat is the worst breakdown in ties between the two
Communist states since a brief border war in 1979.
"My own sense is that if the Vietnamese government start to
ratchet up their tactics, the Chinese probably are not going to
blink," said Christopher Johnson, a former senior China analyst
at the CIA, now at the Center for Strategic and International
Studies in Washington. "So you could have a very difficult
The rig move was the latest in a series of confrontations
between China and some of its neighbours. Washington has
sharpened rhetoric towards Beijing, describing a pattern of
"provocative" actions by China.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry discussed the situation
by telephone with Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign
Minister Pham Binh Minh on Wednesday, the two governments said.
Kerry also invited Minh to visit Washington, U.S. State
Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
Dung, in some of his strongest comments yet on the breakdown
in ties with Beijing, said that while Vietnam had sought to use
dialogue to settle the situation, the response from China had
been an increase in force and intimidation.
"There is a vast gap between the words and deeds of China,"
He followed up those remarks in a speech at the World
Economic Forum on East Asia in which he warned the maritime
territorial tensions could endanger global trade.
"The risk of conflict will disrupt these huge flows of
goods, and have unforeseeable impact on regional and world
economies," he said. "It may even reverse the trend of global
Both sides have traded accusations over who was to blame for
a series of collisions between Vietnamese and Chinese vessels in
waters near the oil rig earlier this month.
China claims about 90 percent of the South China Sea,
displaying its reach on official maps with a so-called nine-dash
line that stretches deep into the maritime heart of Southeast
Asia. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also
have claims to parts of the potentially energy-rich waters.
HANOI WEIGHS OPTIONS
Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam told Reuters on
Thursday that Hanoi had been staying well-briefed on the
progress of Manila's arbitration case.
"We have followed this case very closely and would like to
use all measures provided by international law to protect our
legitimate interests," he said in an interview in Tokyo.
Diplomatic sources in Vietnam have previously told Reuters
that China put pressure on Hanoi over joining the Philippine
Manila is seeking a ruling to confirm its right to exploit
the waters in its exclusive economic zone as allowed under the
U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
A ruling against China could prompt other claimants to
challenge Beijing, experts say, although Manila has said it does
not expect the tribunal to reach a decision before the end of
Any ruling would be unenforceable because there is no body
under UNCLOS to police such decisions, legal experts say.
CHINA "BROUGHT US TOGETHER"
To try to keep up pressure on Beijing, diplomats said
Vietnam might host a meeting with Philippine and Malaysian
officials at the end of the month to discuss how to respond to
China, underscoring the nascent coordination among the three
countries. Meetings in February and March had discussed the
Philippine legal case.
A senior Malaysian diplomatic source told Reuters last week
that China's assertiveness had given momentum to the three-way
talks and "brought us together", but he played down the
discussions as little more than "chit chat" at this stage.
Malaysia had no intention of filing a legal case against
China, the source added.
The growing Manila-Hanoi co-operation was a potential
turning point in the tensions over the South China Sea that have
intensified over the last five years said Carl Thayer of the
Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra.
"Vietnam may be siding up to the U.S. via the Philippines,"
he said. "A joint or two separate legal challenges would really
put China on the spot, and outside international law."
(Additional reporting by Martin Petty in BANGKOK, Stuart
Grudgings in KUALA LUMPUR, Greg Torode in HONG KONG, Sui-Lee Wee
in BEIJING and Lesley Wroughton in WASHINGTON; Writing by Dean
Yates and Alex Richardson; Editing by Paul Tait and Ron Popeski)