China, Vietnam meeting cancelled amid rising South China Sea tensions

The Chinese embassy officials gave no reason for the cancellation of the meeting scheduled for Monday in Manila.

south china sea
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is seen after the launching ceremony of the ASEAN Regional Forum Annual Security Outlook as part of the 50th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Ministerial Meetings in Manila, Philippines August 7, 2017. Reuters

Chinese embassy officials said that a scheduled meeting between the foreign ministers of China and Vietnam was cancelled on the sidelines of a regional gathering. This latest move comes amid growing tension between the two countries over the South China Sea.

Vietnam had held out for language that noted concern about island-building and criticised militarisation in South China Sea in the communique on Sunday from foreign ministers of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

When it comes to the conflict about the ownership claims of the South China Sea, Vietnam has emerged as the most vocal opponent of China's claims in the waterway. Every year, more than US$3 trillion in cargo pass through the disputed South China Sea.

The Chinese embassy officials gave no reason for the cancellation of the meeting scheduled for Monday in Manila between China's Wang Yi and Vietnam's Pham Binh Minh. However, a Chinese foreign ministry official said they had "already met". But, Vietnam's foreign ministry did not respond immediately to a request for comment regarding this matter.

In response to this matter, the state media in Vietnam said that the ministers had held a "pull aside" meeting and exchanged views. It also showed pictures of them shaking hands.

Although the language in the ASEAN communique reflected that in previous years, some countries pursuing deeper business ties with Beijing, such as Cambodia and the Philippines, had argued for dropping it.

China is highly sensitive to even a veiled reference by ASEAN to its reclamation of seven reefs and its military installations in the South China Sea. Beijing claims almost whole of the waterway despite the competing claims of five other countries.

In June, Vietnam infuriated China by drilling for oil and gas in an offshore block that Beijing disputes and the exploration was suspended after diplomatic protests from China. Tension have been rising since then.

China's foreign minister had called out "some countries", who voiced concern over island reclamation, after the ASEAN meeting.

Wang said that China had not carried out reclamation for two years. "At this time, if you ask who is carrying out reclamation, it is definitely not China - perhaps it is the country that brings up the issue that is doing it," he told Reuters.

According to reports, satellite images have shown that Vietnam has carried out reclamation work in two sites in the disputed seas in recent years.

On Tuesday, the state-run China Daily cited unnamed sources as saying Vietnam had tried to hype up the reclamation issue in the communique, pointing out that Vietnam has accelerated its land reclamation in the South China Sea. "Undoubtedly, what Vietnam has done is the trick of a thief crying 'stop thief,'" the paper quoted one of the sources as saying.

Meanwhile on Monday, Australia, Japan and the United States urged Southeast Asia and China to ensure that a South China Sea code of conduct that they have committed to draw up will be legally binding and said they strongly opposed "coercive unilateral actions".