Top China envoy visits Vietnam ahead of court ruling

June 27, 2016
Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi, left, shakes hands with Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh at the start of a bilateral conference in Hanoi, Vietnam Monday, June 27, 2016. Yang is on a two-day visit to Vietnam to try to promote cooperation amid growing tension over Chinese growing assertiveness in the South China Sea. (AP Photo/Tran Van Minh)

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — A top Chinese diplomat is visiting Vietnam ahead of a ruling by an international court on Beijing’s extensive territorial claims in the South China Sea.

The visit by State Councilor Yang Jiechi, who outranks the foreign minister, comes as the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague is expected to issue a ruling in a case filed by the Philippines contesting Beijing’s claims to most of the South China Sea.

Beijing has rejected the arbitration, saying the territorial disputes should be negotiated directly between rival claimants.

Tran Cong Truc, former head of Vietnam’s border committee, said Yang may try to lobby Vietnamese leaders on the issue, but that Vietnam’s opposition to Chinese claims to virtually the entire region will not change.

Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh told Yang on Monday that ties between Vietnam and China will remain good despite the territorial disputes.

“We are glad to realize that the two countries’ relationship continues its trend of positive development, despite some existing problems that need to be solved,” Minh said after greeting Yang.

The two top diplomats also witnessed the signing of a memorandum on cooperation between the two countries’ maritime police forces.

The two forces faced off against each other in May 2014 when China placed a giant oil drilling rig near the Vietnamese-claimed Paracel islands off Vietnam’s central coast.

The oil rig incident plunged relations between the two Communist neighbors to their lowest point in years. Since then the two countries have been trying to mend ties.

Yang is in Hanoi to co-chair an annual conference on Vietnam-China cooperation. He was to meet with Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong and President Tran Dai Quang later Monday before departing Tuesday.

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