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China says Vietnam efforts to rope in others on spat will fail

Protesters hold anti-China placards while marching in an anti-China protest on a street in Hanoi May 11, 2014. REUTERS/Kham
Protesters hold anti-China placards while marching in an anti-China protest on a street in Hanoi May 11, 2014. REUTERS/Kham

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's foreign ministry said on Monday Vietnam's efforts to garner support over a territorial dispute in the South China Sea would fail, a day after Southeast Asian leaders meeting for a regional summit in Myanmar refrained from criticizing Beijing.

Tensions rose in the resource-rich South China Sea last week after China positioned a giant oil rig in an area also claimed by Vietnam. Each country accused the other of ramming its ships near the disputed Paracel Islands.

"The facts prove that Vietnam is trying to rope in other parties and put pressure on China, (but) will not achieve its aims," China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news conference.

"We hope that Vietnam can see the situation clearly, calmly face up to reality, and stop harassing the Chinese operations."

Speaking to fellow leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations at a summit on Sunday, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said Vietnam had acted with "utmost restraint" and used all means of dialogue to request China remove the rig.

Dung said China was slandering his country and committing dangerous violations.

The communiqué issued at the end of the summit by the 10-nation ASEAN group contained no criticism of Beijing, however.

China last week blamed the United States for stoking tension in the South China Sea by encouraging countries to engage in dangerous behavior.

However, Hua said that media should not hype up the situation. China and ASEAN "have the ability and determination to jointly maintain regional peace and stability", she said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met his counterpart from ASEAN member Singapore in Washington on Monday and in a statement before their talks, reiterated U.S. concerns about what he called China's "challenge to the Paracel Islands".

"We are particularly concerned - all nations that are engaged in navigation and traffic within the South China Sea, the East China Sea, are deeply concerned about this aggressive act," Kerry said.

"We want to see a Code of Conduct created; we want to see this resolved peacefully through the Law of the Sea, through arbitration, through any other means, but not direct confrontation and aggressive action," he said.

Singapore's Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam said Singapore also wanted progress in talks with China aimed at establishing a maritime Code of Conduct, which have made little headway so far.

"We do not want tension," he said. "We need a situation where parties resolve their disputes and differences in a way that's acceptable to all."

Hundreds of Vietnamese rallied in their country's biggest cities on Sunday to denounce China, in rare protests that looked likely to prolong the tense stand-off.

Hua said that China "paid great attention" to the protests, and had asked Vietnam to take all available measures to ensure the safety of Chinese citizens and organizations in Vietnam.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, rejecting rival claims to parts or all of the oil and gas rich waters from Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.

China's relations with the Philippines have become increasingly strained in recent weeks due to tensions over the disputed Spratly Islands.

A week ago, the Philippines seized a Chinese fishing boat and its crew off Half Moon Shoal in the Spratlys. The incident occurred while Philippine and U.S. forces were conducting joint exercises.

Philippine police said the boat and its crew were seized for hunting sea turtles, which are protected under local laws.

On Monday, a provincial prosecutor filed cases against nine of the 11 crew and set bail at 70,000 pesos ($1,600) for each of them, despite demands from Chinese diplomats who went to see the fishermen and demanded they should be freed.

The Philippines foreign ministry said the other remaining two crew members would be released as they are minors. They were turned over to the social welfare department.

Hua has described the Philippines' actions as illegal, saying the boat and crew were seized in Chinese waters.

Manila says the Chinese boat was seized 60 miles off Palawan island, within a 200-mile (320-kilometre) exclusive economic zone declared by the Philippines.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard, additional Reporting by Manuel Mogato in Manila and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Marguerita Choy)

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