China, Vietnam 'vow peaceful end to sea row'
China and Vietnam pledged yesterday to resolve the territorial disputes over the South China Sea through peaceful negotiations, Beijing said following their first high-level talks since the long-standing maritime disagreement took a nosedive last month.
Analysts said it was a sign that the increased tension over the potentially natural resources-rich waters was easing, although one said it did not represent any key breakthrough.
The apparent friendly gesture between the bickering neighbours also came as the United States called for Beijing to help lower the temperature and as Vietnamese protesters marched through the streets of the capital, Hanoi, for a fourth straight week against Beijing's attitude in the disputes.
State Councillor Dai Bingguo, China's top diplomat, and Vietnamese deputy Foreign Minister Ho Xuan Son - also a special envoy sent by Hanoi - held talks in Beijing on Saturday after Ho met his Chinese counterpart, Zhang Zhijun, according to a statement posted on the Foreign Ministry's website yesterday.
China and Vietnam agreed to 'peacefully resolve their maritime disputes through negotiations and friendly consultations', the ministry said. They agreed to seek speedy implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea - a pact signed in 2002 between China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations to prevent conflict until the myriad territorial disputes are resolved.
They also agreed to 'strengthen public opinion guidance to prevent words and actions that would be detrimental to the friendship and mutual trust between the peoples of the two countries.'
Analysts say this showed both sides were clearly concerned about increasingly heated domestic nationalistic sentiments and eager to contain the disputes.
'China and Vietnam may have traded bitter accusations during the past month but the bottom line remains very clear: never allow the verbal war to escalate to an actual one... top leaders of both sides have managed to keep their heads cool,' said Terence Yeung, a military expert who teaches at Baptist University.
Professor Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, a political scientist at City University, said the bickering would 'dissipate within one or two weeks', if no extraordinary situation arose. However, he expressed doubt over Hanoi's sincerity, saying it was trying to exploit nationalism to distract public attention from economic woes.
Xu Guangyu, retired People's Liberation Army general and analyst with the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, said he was cautiously optimistic of a peaceful resolution.
The latest spell of the long-standing disagreement over sovereignty in the South China Sea broke out last month when Hanoi said Chinese boats had cut the cables of a Vietnamese oil exploration ship.