China's top diplomat will visit Vietnam on Wednesday to discuss bilateral cooperation, with the issue of the wrongful placement of a Chinese oil rig off Vietnam's coast on the agenda.
The visit by State Councilor Yang Jiechi, who outranks the foreign minister, will be the highest level direct contact between Beijing and Hanoi since a Chinese state oil company parked the rig in waters claimed by both countries on May 2.
Yang would attend an annual meeting on bilateral cooperation, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular briefing. Vietnamese officials said Yang would meet Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung as well as the head of the country's ruling communist party.
"We hope that Vietnam keeps its eye on the broader picture, meets China halfway and appropriately resolves the present situation," Hua said, without directly mentioning the rig.
Vietnam's Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh said the rig would be discussed.
The Haiyang Shiyou 981 rig is drilling near the Paracel Islands, about 150 nautical miles from Vietnam's coast. Vietnam claims sovereignty over the Paracels, which was taken over by China after a bloody naval battle in 1974.
Vietnam has said the rig is in its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone and on its continental shelf, while China claims it is operating within its waters.
The rig's deployment triggered protests in Vietnam last month. China has demanded Vietnam provide compensation for damage caused its businesses in the riots and punish those responsible.
Vietnam detained several hundred people in the aftermath of the violence. Around a dozen people have been tried and given jail terms of up to three years.
Prime Minister Dung last month said his government was considering taking legal action against China following deployment of the rig. That drew an angry response from Beijing.
China has said the rig will explore in the area until mid-August.
Beijing claims about 90 percent of the South China Sea, but law experts said its claims have no legal basis.