China and Vietnam have pledged to strengthen military ties to avoid conflict as tensions simmer between the two nations over territorial claims in the South China Sea. The commitment was made on Sunday during a three-day visit to Vietnam by Defence Minister Chang Wanquan. Chang and his Vietnamese counterpart, Phùng Quang Thanh, agreed that the armed forces of both nations should act with restraint to avoid conflict, Vietnamese media reported. Both sides said the militaries of both countries should keep calm and maintain peace in the South China Sea. The meeting comes after two Chinese ships intercepted a Vietnamese fishing boat in disputed waters near the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea earlier this month, according to Vietnamese media reports. Eleven men claiming to be marine police boarded the fishing boat and confiscated its catch, the reports said. Vietnam backs latest US challenge to Beijing’s sovereignty in South China Sea, say analysts A Vietnamese foreign ministry spokesman said the fishing boat had been “robbed” and urged China to investigate and offer compensation. In talks on Sunday, Vietnamese Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong saidHanoi wanted to cooperate with Beijing to sustain peace and stability on the basis of respecting mutual interests and abiding by internal law, the Vietnam News Agency reported. The content of the visit appears to be a formality but the timing is significant Zhang Mingliang, analyst He said China and Vietnam should continue to organise high-level meetings, carry out joint patrols and ensure their armed forces liaised closely to further strengthen regional ties. China has created unease among neighbouring countries by carrying out massive reclamation work on islands in disputed areas of the South China Sea. Several countries, including Vietnam and the Philippines, lay claim to parts of the waters. Zhang Mingliang, a Southeast Asian affairs expert at Jinan University, said the visit by the defence minister was an important political gesture, pointing to the need for both nations to maintain close contacts among senior officials to help stabilise the situation in the South China Sea. China’s neighbours wary of taking sides in Sino-US South China Sea dispute “The content of the visit appears to be a formality but the timing is significant as this is the third visit by senior officials on both sides since a major leadership reshuffle in Vietnam,” Zhang said. Beijing-based military analyst Li Jie said it was important for China to maintain close communication with Vietnam as it was not a US ally like the Philippines. An international arbitration tribunal in The Hague, in the Netherlands, expects to hand down a ruling in May in a case brought by the Philippines against China over disputed islands in the South China Sea. Beijing does not recognise the tribunal. Tensions have also escalated with other less-vocal nations. In the past 10 days, about 100 China-registered boats have encroached into Malaysian waters near the Luconia Shoals. Meanwhile, Indonesia also detained eight Chinese fishermen who were accused of operating illegally in its waters. Zhang, from Jinan University, called on China to continue pushing for bilateral talks to ease tensions in the region.