China has sent a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon protesting Vietnam’s actions in disputed waters in the South China Sea and defending Beijing’s claims there, saying it wanted to counter Hanoi’s “smears” amid a territorial row.
Wang Min, China's deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, sent the note along with documents backing Beijing’s claims to disputed territories, asking Ban to circulate the items to U.N. member states.
"China sent the note to tell the international community the truth and set straight their understanding on the issue," Wang told reporters at the U.N. headquarters in New York after delivering the letter, Chinese state media reported.
Tensions have simmered between Vietnam and China since Beijing deployed a giant oil rig last month in waters off Vietnam’s coast claimed by both countries.
Vietnam and China have blamed one another for repeated collisions in the oil rig area between ships from both countries, with Vietnam last week releasing dramatic video footage showing a large Chinese ship chasing and ramming one of its fishing boats and causing it to sink.
Slandered by Vietnam
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China had exercised restraint throughout the row, but had to go to the U.N. to defend its position after being slandered by Vietnam.
“The Vietnamese side did not exercise restraint in the slightest,” she told reporters at a regular press briefing in Beijing on Monday.
“On the one hand they intensified the degree of harassment and sabotage, and on the other hand they wantonly spread rumors and engaged in slandering [China] internationally, smearing and attacking China in an irrational way.”
“Under such a situation, we need to explain the truth of the matter so that the international community will have a correct understanding of the facts,” she said.
The documents Wang sent to Ban included a statement published on China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs website alleging that Vietnam rammed Chinese vessels more than 1,400 times near the oil rig.
Vietnam’s actions near the rig were serious infringements upon China's sovereignty, grave threats to the safety of Chinese personnel, and gross violations of international law, it said.
Other documents backed China’s claims to the Paracel Islands, which are located in an area near the rig believed to be resource-rich.
Reports in Vietnamese state media rejected the claims in China’s statement, accusing Beijing of trying to skew the facts.
“The story covers up the truth that China used force to illegally occupy Vietnam’s Paracel archipelago in 1974,” a report carried by the Voice of Vietnam and VietnamNet said.
“Together with incorrect and unconvincing arguments, the article attempts to defend its illegal placement of the oil rig in Vietnam’s continental shelf and even alleges that Vietnamese ships have disrupted the operation of the rig,” it said.
China has maintained nearly 120 ships in the area, including 40 coast guard vessels, more than 30 cargo ships and tugboats, 35 to 40 fishing boats, and four warships, another state media outlet, Viet Nam News, reported Tuesday.
A Y-8 aircraft was also spotted flying above the oil rig, it said.
The spat is the most serious deterioration of relations between two neighbors since a brief war in 1979 following Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia.
China’s deployment of the oil rig in early May sparked anti-China riots in Vietnam that killed at least four people and saw foreign-owned factories set on fire.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, rejecting rival claims from Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei.
Southeast Asian countries have been pushing China to agree to a code of conduct for about a decade to avoid conflicts in the South China Sea, which is known in Vietnam as the East Sea.