China, Vietnam willing to handle maritime issues through dialogue

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China and Vietnam have agreed to handle maritime disputes through dialogue, Chinese state media reported on Monday, months after ties between the two countries hit a three-decade low in a row over a Chinese oil rig in disputed waters.

The two Communist neighbours must respect each other and focus on long-term interests, President Xi Jinping said, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

"Sino-Vietnamese relations have been advancing continuously since the two nations established diplomatic relations, despite some twists and turns," he said.

Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang said his country was ready to "properly deal with maritime issues through friendly consultation so that the issues will not affect its relations with China", according to Xinhua.

Sang said Vietnam was ready to step up high-level contacts and non-government swaps to strengthen its links with China.

The two countries agreed to "address and control" maritime disputes, state media reported last month, in the wake of the row sparked by China's May 2 deployment of a US$1 billion (S$1.29 billion) oil rig to disputed waters that straddle a key shipping lane.

Defence leaders from the two countries held talks last month in Beijing, and both sides agreed to "gradually resume" military ties, Xinhua reported.

Vietnam has reacted with alarm at China's military rise and increasingly assertive posture, broadening military ties with the United States as well as with Cold War-era patron Russia.

Territorial disputes in the potentially oil-rich South China Sea have roiled ties between China and many neighbours. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims in the waters, crossed by US$5 trillion of ship-borne goods every year.