China and Vietnam pledged to bolster diplomatic ties in a meeting this week between the two nations’ heads of state. The latest exchange, publicized in their countries' state media, is a vast departure from the past few years of heated rhetoric over the South China Sea.
China claims more than 90 percent of the South China Sea, displaying its reach on official maps with a so-called nine-dash line that stretches deep into the maritime heart of Southeast Asia — much to the chagrin the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and Vietnam.
What Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported Wednesday was a joint communique from Beijing and Hanoi said that both countries had a "candid" exchange regarding their long-standing maritime spat.
Xinhua reported that the two countries agreed to "use well the Sino-Vietnam government border negotiation mechanism, uphold friendly consultations and negotiations to look for a basic and lasting resolution both countries can accept.”
China and Vietnam should also "proactively look for transitional resolution methods which do not affect either side's position, including looking at and discussing joint development,” Xinhua said.
Neither country should do anything to "complicate or expand" the dispute in order to ensure peace and stability in the sea, the statement added.
Vietnam’s official Communist Party newspaper Nhan Dan said nothing in an English-language article about the government border negotiation mechanism and made no pledges not to fan the flames of the territorial dispute, but Communist Party Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong was reported as lauding efforts to strengthen ties with Beijing.
Nguyen “noted that Vietnam and China have enjoyed a time-honored friendship and comprehensive strategic co-operative partnership,” the newspaper reported, adding that Nguyen “expressed his hope that [diplomatic advocacy group the China-Vietnam Friendship Association] and Chinese friends would continue exerting efforts for diplomatic ties.”
Trade has swelled to $50 billion annually, but Vietnam has long been suspicious of its giant neighbor, especially over China's increasingly assertive claims to almost the entire South China Sea.
Anti-Chinese violence flared in Vietnam last year after a $1 billion deepwater rig owned by China's state-run CNOOC oil company was parked 150 miles off the coast of Vietnam in the South China Sea.
Since then, however, China has sought to make amends with Vietnam, including sending senior officials to Hanoi.
Chinese President Xi Jinping told General Secretary Nguyen on Tuesday that the two countries must manage their dispute over the South China Sea well to maintain peace and stability.
Vietnam has strengthened its military relationship with the United States since the South China Sea dispute has heated up following Xi's assumption of power in 2013, and Vietnam has also sought common ground with the Philippines on facing China over the spat.
Al Jazeera and Reuters