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September 26, 2017

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Beijing tells Hanoi to stop 'hyping up' South China Sea dispute

HANOI -- Beijing's top foreign policy official on Wednesday slapped down Vietnamese claims to disputed waters, in talks aimed at pulling relations back from their lowest point in decades.

State Councilor Yang Jiechi met Vietnam's Foreign Minister and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung in Hanoi for the first high-level talks between the neighbors since early May, when vessels from both sides collided near a Chinese oil rig anchored in contested seas.

The incident prompted deadly anti-China riots in Vietnam and an evacuation of nationals by Beijing.

Yang told Vietnam that it had to "stop its disturbances against China's operations, stop hyping up the relevant issue," and deal with the fallout from riots targeting foreign businesses, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, told reporters in Beijing.

During the talks Yang "stressed that the Xisha (Paracel) Islands are China's inherent territory" and said the current difficulties in the relationship were due to Vietnamese "illegal disturbances."

Vietnam claims the Paracel Islands, known as Hoang Sa in Vietnamese, which China seized from then-South Vietnam in 1974 in a period of turmoil shortly before the end of the Vietnam war.

There was no immediate reaction from Vietnam but analysts said the hard line taken by Yang means the talks are highly unlikely to yield a breakthrough.

The two sides have spent the last month trading accusations in the increasingly heated territorial dispute, with each side claiming the other has engaged in aggressive behavior against its ships, including by ramming them.

The dispute has brought relations to their lowest point since a border war in 1979.

Yang was previously China's foreign minister. But he moved up to the State Council, the country's cabinet, last year, making him more powerful than the current foreign minister.

'China is not sincere'

Vietnam's communist leaders have struggled to balance strong domestic opposition to China's unilateral moves in the South China Sea with their traditionally friendly ties with a fellow communist country.

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