UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Vietnam's U.N. ambassador urged China on Tuesday to withdraw its oil rig and more than 100 ships from the South China Sea to create "an environment" for negotiations on the disputed waters.
But Ambassador Le Hoai Trung said in an interview with The Associated Press that Beijing refuses to engage in dialogue and insists there is no dispute, claiming the area around the rig belongs to China.
The escalation in tensions is the most serious in years between Vietnam and its massive northern neighbor, which claims nearly all of the South China Sea.
China sent the rig into the disputed waters on May 1, provoking a confrontation with Vietnamese ships, complaints from Hanoi and street protests that turned into bloody anti-Chinese riots. Hundreds of factories were damaged, and China said four of its citizens were "brutally killed" and over 300 injured.
Trung said "some extreme elements" provoked by China's deployment of the rig undertook actions which the government "very much regrets." He said many suspects have been arrested and prosecuted, and the government has taken measures to prevent a repetition of the violence.
Both Vietnam and China have taken the dispute over the rig to the United Nations, circulating rival documents among the U.N. General Assembly's 193 member states. Vietnam has said it is considering legal action against China in an international court.
China has accused Vietnam of "illegally and forcefully" disrupting the rig's operation by sending armed ships and ramming Chinese vessels.
The oil platform is located about 32 kilometers (20 miles) from the China-controlled Paracel Islands, which Vietnam claims, and 278 kilometers (173 miles) from the coast of Vietnam.
Trung said Vietnam has "the legal basis and historical evidence to affirm our sovereign rights over the area" where the rig is deployed, which the country says is part of its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.
The ambassador said China's refusal to discuss the dispute is provocative and raises "serious concerns."
"We don't want to be provocative with this issue," he said. "We want to have negotiations, to have dialogue, or any other means of peaceful settlement of the dispute."
He added, "Up until now we exercise our restraint, but of course we always, like any other country, reserve the right of self-defense."
Trung stressed, however, that after decades of war the Vietnamese people want peace "and friendly relations with China."