Hanoi:  China and Vietnam, caught up in an increasingly bitter confrontation over disputed waters, have a common desire to solve their tensions, a top Chinese diplomat said today.

State Councilor Yang Jiechi is the most senior Chinese diplomat to visit Vietnam since China’s deployment of a giant oil rig off the Vietnamese coast last month increased tensions between the neighbors.

Yang Jiechi told Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh, who is also foreign minister, that the countries are experiencing a “difficult” relationship and that promoting bilateral relations is a goal of the Communist neighbours.

“It can be said that developing China-Vietnam relations is the common desire of the two parties, two governments, two states and two peoples of China and Vietnam,” Yang told Minh through a translator.

“Currently, the China-Vietnam relationship is experiencing difficulties and I came to Vietnam this time at the order of our (Communist Party) Central Committee to have frank, broad and deep discussions with Comrade Pham Binh Minh.”

Minh told Yang that the meeting, the highest direct contact since the May standoff, shows a commitment to resolving the dispute in the South China Sea.

“Our meeting … demonstrates that the two parties and states of Vietnam and China have the desire for dialogue to settle the current complicated situation in the East Sea,” Minh said, referring to the South China Sea.

China and Vietnam accuse each other of ramming ships near the oil installation.

Vietnam said the use of the oil rig violates its sovereignty and has demanded that China withdraw it, while China says Vietnam should stop harassing with its normal oil drilling activity.

China’s placement of the oil rig in early May triggered anti-China demonstrations in many parts of Vietnam and some turned to riots which resulted in the deaths of five Chinese nationals and injures to hundreds more. Rioters targeted factories believed to be Chinese owned.

Hundreds of factories were damaged and dozens were burnt. Many of them were built with Taiwanese investment.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said last month that Vietnam was considering legal action against the Chinese move. The two ideological allies fought a brief but bloody border war in 1979, and skirmishes also occurred in 1988 when China used force to occupy the 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 Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei,Malaysia and Taiwan.

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