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AS IT IS - China, Vietnam Take South China Sea Dispute to UN

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A Vietnamese sinking boat (L) which was rammed and then sunk by Chinese vessels near disputed Paracels Islands, is seen near a Marine Guard ship (R) at Ly Son island of Vietnam's central Quang Ngai province May 29, 2014.
A Vietnamese sinking boat (L) which was rammed and then sunk by Chinese vessels near disputed Paracels Islands, is seen near a Marine Guard ship (R) at Ly Son island of Vietnam's central Quang Ngai province May 29, 2014.

China and Vietnam are asking United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to help end their dispute in the South China Sea.

On Monday, China sent a letter to Mr. Ban. The letter accused Vietnam of, in its words, "illegally and forcefully" affecting Chinese oil drilling in parts of the sea claimed by both countries.

China's Deputy U.N. Ambassador Wang Min wrote that Vietnam was violating China's territorial rights. And he said Vietnam's actions threaten the safety of Chinese workers.

Vietnam later said it had also sent a letter to Mr. Ban. The letter demanded that China immediately move a Chinese oil-drilling platform and other ships. Vietnam said they violated its territorial claims.

Vietnam also called on China to, in its words, "create conditions" for talks on a plan "to stabilize the situation and control the maritime issues between the two countries."

Both letters talked about international treaties -- including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. And both countries asked Mr. Ban to give their letters to U.N. members.

Last month, China deployed a state-run oil-drilling platform near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, within what Vietnam considers its economic zone. China also has territorial disputes in the area with the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

The dispute about the oil-drilling platform has caused tensions between communist neighbors China and Vietnam.

Vietnam accused China of firing water cannons at, and ramming, Vietnamese fishing boats -- including one that sank last month. China said Vietnam was the aggressor and that its ships rammed Chinese vessels.

The dispute also led to large anti-China riots last month in Vietnam. Angry Vietnamese destroyed Chinese-owned factories, killing at least four people and wounding many. It forced the removal of thousands of Chinese workers.

Vietnam also asked the United States to help end its territorial disputes with China. The U.S. has declined to take sides in the dispute.

Jen Psaki is a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department.

"We encourage the sides to maintain dialogue with each other, but we're not going to weigh in on speculation about their location and what it means."

Michael Auslin studies relations between the United States and Asian nations at the American Enterprise Institute. Mr. Auslin disagreed with the decision by the United States to not get involved in the dispute.

"When the administration goes so far as to say that it's not going to determine whether or not these waters are in the common definition of the exclusive economic zone of Vietnam, you've taken a very great step towards abdicating any input that you can have into this situation."

Hillary Mann Leverett is a professor at American University in Washington and a former U.N. and State Department official. She said the decision by the U.S. to not get involved would hurt its efforts to become more involved militarily and diplomatically in Asia.

"That's what China wants to show to Vietnam: 'You are under the biggest stress that you've been under, and the one person, one country that could can come and help you out isn't going to do it. You need to make amends with China.' That's I think very much part of the strategy and why we will continue to see more."

I'm Christopher Cruise

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