HANOI (AFP) — Vietnam on Thursday signalled it wants to continue with a joint oil exploration project with ExxonMobil in disputed waters, despite a warning from China to the US energy giant to drop the deal.
Vietnam -- without mentioning the specific contract, a preliminary co-operation pact with state-run PetroVietnam -- reasserted its claim over parts of the South China Sea that are the subject of a dispute with China.
"We have confirmed that all Vietnamese cooperation with foreign partners in the field of petroleum is conducted in Vietnamese territorial water and in the exclusive economic zone," said foreign ministry spokesman Le Dung.
"These are totally under the sovereignty and right of Vietnam and in line with the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea as well as other bilateral and multilateral agreements between Vietnam and foreign partners."
Hong Kong's Sunday Morning Post newspaper, citing unnamed sources close to ExxonMobil, reported this week that China had warned it to drop the deal and said the project could threaten future mainland contracts.
Beijing, which is in dispute with a number of nations as it claims vast swathes of the South China Sea, says Vietnam's central and southern offshore coastal waters -- site of the exploration -- are part of its historic territory.
China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao on Wednesday told a press briefing: "China's position on the South China Sea is clear and consistent. As for the case you mentioned (the Vietnam-ExxonMobil deal), China has stated our position to relevant parties.
"China opposes any actions that infringe upon China's sovereignty, sovereignty rights and jurisdiction over the South China Sea."
But Le Dung said on Thursday that "Vietnam will ensure all the legitimate interests of foreign investors when they operate in Vietnam.
"We welcome and shall facilitate all cooperation with foreign partners, including Chinese investors operating in Vietnam, on the basis of full respect for our sovereignty."
Last year, China criticised a joint deal between Vietnam and British energy giant BP near the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, saying the area has been an "indisputable part of Chinese territory since ancient times."
China and Vietnam -- who in 1979 fought a short border war after Vietnam expelled the Beijing-backed Khmer Rouge from Cambodia -- also fought a brief naval battle in 1988 near the Spratly Islands.
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