BEIJING/HANOI • China and Vietnam have reached agreement on managing their dispute in the South China Sea through friendly talks, a senior Chinese diplomat said yesterday, following an ugly spat over the summer.
Both countries have long been at loggerheads over the strategic waterway, with Vietnam having emerged as a vocal opponent of China's claims to the majority of the regional sea.
A scheduled meeting between their foreign ministers in August was cancelled on the sidelines of a regional gathering in Manila amid an argument about militarisation in the South China Sea and island-building.
Hanoi and Beijing, however, have sought to get relations back on track, with a top Chinese leader telling his Vietnamese hosts in September that their two communist parties have a "shared destiny".
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met senior Vietnamese officials in Hanoi this week.
Speaking before Chinese President Xi Jinping goes to Vietnam next week for a state visit and to attend a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders, Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Chen Xiaodong said national leaders of the two countries have had many "deep, frank" discussions on maritime issues.
"They reached an important consensus," Mr Chen told a news briefing. "Both sides will uphold the principle of friendly consultations and dialogue to jointly manage and control maritime disputes, and protect the bigger picture of developing Sino-Vietnam relations and stability in the South China Sea."
Vietnam's Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh said in a statement late on Thursday that he had proposed in a meeting with Mr Wang that the two countries resolve disputes based on common sense and international law.
The latter point is a contentious one in the South China Sea, where Hanoi has long said Beijing's extensive territorial claim has no legal basis.
Separately, ahead of next week's visit to Beijing by President Donald Trump, China hopes the United States can "help and not cause problems" in the South China Sea, a senior Chinese diplomat said yesterday. The US has criticised China's construction of islands and build-up of military facilities in the sea, and is concerned they could be used to restrict free nautical movement.
Speaking to reporters about Mr Trump's trip, Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang said China has indisputable sovereignty over islands and surrounding waters in the South China Sea.
The essence of the dispute is some regional countries' illegal occupation of some of China's islands and reefs, Mr Zheng said.
"The South China Sea issue isn't an issue between China and the United States," he added.
"We hope that as an external party, the United States can plant more flowers and fewer thorns, help and not cause problems."