China And Vietnam Agree on Territorial Talks Amid Tensions

China and Vietnam agreed to negotiate on their South China Sea disputes without backing away from territorial claims that have caused a rift between the two communist countries.

Vietnamese politburo member Le Hong Anh, at the invitation of China, met with President Xi Jinping and other officials in Beijing yesterday. Ties cooled after a Chinese oil rig was placed off Vietnam’s coast in May, triggering skirmishes between boats of the two countries and deadly anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam.

The two countries agreed to government-level negotiations on border and territorial issues, Vietnam News reported today. They will seek ways to contain sea disputes and implement principles to guide the settlement of such disputes, the paper said.

Leaders have previously issued statements on the intent to negotiate even as tensions continue, said Alexander Vuving, a security analyst at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii. The Beijing meeting allowed each side to size up the other, particularly after U.S. leaders began calling for a lifting of an embargo on lethal weapons sales to Vietnam, he said.

“I don’t see any breakthrough in China-Vietnam relations,” Vuving said by phone. “There are no reasons China would refrain from provocations. They are very assertive. Vietnam has no other option than to continue to move closer to China’s rivals, such as the U.S., Japan and India.”

Friendly Neighbors

Xi yesterday called for China and Vietnam to restore ties, the official Xinhua News Agency reported, saying “a neighbor cannot be moved away and it is in the common interests of both sides to be friendly to each other.” The president said he hopes “the Vietnamese will make joint efforts with the Chinese to put the bilateral relationship back on the right track of development.”

Anh invited Xi to visit Vietnam, Vietnam News reported today.

Vietnam is still considering implementing “international law” as a peaceful means to protect its sovereignty, Le Hai Binh, Vietnam foreign ministry spokesman, said during a Hanoi briefing today.

Vietnam reiterates it “has undisputed sovereignty over the Spratly and Paracel islands,” he said. “Therefore any activity that is conducted without Vietnam’s permission is considered illegal.”

Oil Rig

The meeting followed the removal of the HYSY 981 rig from waters near the Paracel Islands on July 15 and the Aug. 8 visit to Hanoi by U.S. Senators John McCain and Sheldon Whitehouse, who vowed to push Congress to lift the ban on the sale of lethal weapons to Vietnam. Almost 40 years after the end of a war that killed almost 60,000 American serviceman and probably more than 1 million Vietnamese, the U.S. and Vietnam are moving closer, with trade and investment growing.

Vietnam needs Indian balance in the region, Vietnamese Ambassador to India Nguyen Thanh Tan said in an interview with India Writes Network posted Aug. 22 on Vietnam’s foreign ministry website.

The pledge by China and Vietnam to avoid actions that could be provocative is similar to proposals made by the U.S. and the Philippines at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations regional forum in Myanmar earlier this month, which were rejected by Chinese leaders, Vuving said.

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