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Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung with Vice-President Xi Jinping in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, on Thursday. Nguyen Tan Dung is in China for the ASEAN-China Expo and the 9th ASEAN-China Business and Investment Summit. Feng Yongbin / China Daily
China favors bilateral negotiations as primary way to resolve disputes
Beijing has urged Hanoi to keep in close contact and maintain cooperation ahead of an upcoming regional summit in order to safeguard regional growth and stability.
The background to Vice-President Xi Jinping's remarks during a meeting with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, ahead of the two-day ASEAN-China Expo in Nanning, is competing claims between several Association of Southeast Asian Nations members and China over territory in the South China Sea.
Some participants have been planning to internationalize the issue at the upcoming East Asia Summit in November, a stance China opposes because China favors bilateral negotiations as the primary way to resolve the disputes. Analysts said frequent dialogues among leaders of the two countries over the sea issue could help ease tensions.
It was the second meeting between the leaders of the two countries since the dispute flared up earlier this year.
Several ASEAN members, including Vietnam and The Philippines, claim islands in the oil- and gas-rich South China Sea that are Chinese territory.
An agreement was made between China and ASEAN members 10 years ago not to take measures that could intensify differences, but it has become an increasingly sore issue for Vietnam and The Philippines this year.
President Hu Jintao told Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang earlier this month when they met for an Asia-Pacific economic summit in Vladivostok, Russia, that China and Vietnam should keep cool-headed and restrained on the territorial issue and avoid taking any unilateral measure that might magnify, complicate or internationalize the dispute.
Hu also expressed China's willingness to work together with other ASEAN members for regional peace and stability.
During his meeting with the Vietnamese prime minister, Xi said the priority for Asian countries at present is to "jointly preserve the hard-won momentum of peace and stability in Asia" in the spirit of "sailing on the same boat".
Nguyen Tan Dung said Vietnam viewed cooperation with China as a prime policy and would "spare no efforts in nurturing and preserving friendly ties". Recognizing the two countries' different views on the territorial issue, the Vietnamese prime minister added that both nations should handle it through negotiation and in a "brotherly" spirit.
Last year, Vietnam and China signed an agreement on basic principles guiding the settlement of maritime issues, which said they should remain committed to consultation in the interests of peace and friendship. The meeting and statements showed a willingness to "sit down and talk", said Luo Yongkun, an expert on Southeast Asian studies at China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.
China's determination over the issue combined with its willingness to talk has long prevented tensions from escalating over the issue, according to Dong Manyuan, deputy director of the China Institute of International Studies.
Tension will continue in the short term, he added, as Vietnam is unlikely to give up its claim on the territory.
But the trend for greater cooperation will prevail as China and ASEAN member countries do not lack mechanisms to communicate, Luo said. "The key is how to use the existing channels in an effective way, which will further cement ties," he said.
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