SHANGHAI (REUTERS) – Senior Chinese and Vietnamese officials have agreed to settle their maritime disputes without resorting to “megaphone diplomacy”, the official Xinhua news service said on Saturday.
The agency’s report follows a meeting in Hanoi on Friday between Chinese political advisor Yu Zhengsheng and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, and it comes as Beijing backs off from aggressive attempts to press its territorial claims in the South China Sea.
“Megaphone diplomacy can only trigger volatility in public opinion, which should be avoided by both sides,” the report quoted Yu as saying.
“The maritime issue is highly complicated and sensitive, which requires negotiations to manage and control differences,”he said.
Although major trading partners and sharing the same nominal commitment to communism, China and Vietnam have a long history of distrust and conflict, including a short war in 1978 when Chinese troops invaded Vietnam in response to Hanoi’s invasion of Cambodia, run at the time by the China-backed genocidal Khmer Rouge regime.
Both governments, which lay claim to revolutionary credentials of resistance to foreign invaders, must also placate their respective nationalists demanding more aggressive defence of territory.
The conflict has been aggravated in recent years as China has grown more assertive about its claims in South China Sea, which set China’s sea border hundreds of kilometres south of its land mass to hug most Vietnam’s coast.
China pressed those claims dramatically early in 2014 by placing an oil drilling rig in waters claimed by Vietnam, then confronted Vietnamese vessels attempting to approach the platform with water cannon and ramming tactics.
Vietnamese citizens reacted by trashing Chinese factories (and factories they mistook for Chinese) inside Vietnam, and the government moved to warm military ties with the U.S. and also bought two Kilo-class attack submarines from Russia as a deterrent.
Beijing has since removed the oil rig and has signalled it wants better relations with Vietnam. China has recently launched initiatives for a regional investment bank and an infrastructure fund that would position it as a benevolent driver of regional economic development.