HANOI • Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi yesterday said Beijing and Hanoi should settle their disputes in the South China Sea through talks and move to jointly exploit its waters.
"We have agreed that settling the maritime issues is extremely important for the healthy and sustainable development of bilateral relations," he told reporters after a meeting with Vietnamese Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh in Hanoi.
China claims 90 per cent of the potentially energy-rich maritime territory and has been building on and militarising rocky outcrops and reefs in its waters.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also lay claim to parts of the waterway, through which about US$5 trillion (S$6.6 trillion) of trade passes each year.
Vietnam is the country most openly at odds with China over the issue.
But the two countries' foreign ministers vowed yesterday to address disputes peacefully.
"The two sides should better manage disputes through talks and refrain from taking unilateral actions that may further complicate and expand the disputes," Mr Wang said.
Mr Minh said Vietnam and China shared responsibility to maintain peace and stability in the region, reiterating Vietnam's stance that the maritime disputes must be resolved peacefully.
"At the same time, (the two sides) should promote cooperation at the sea, including holding talks on joint exploitation."
Mr Wang and Mr Minh said bilateral relations had seen positive development, with rising trade and investment as the two neighbours further opened up markets to each other. Bilateral trade exceeded US$100 billion last year.
Mr Minh also said Vietnam and China shared responsibility to maintain peace and stability in the region, reiterating Vietnam's stance that the maritime disputes must be resolved peacefully manner and according to international law.
Hanoi's tensions with Beijing over the waterway have largely played out behind closed doors. But violent protests erupted in Vietnam in 2014 after China moved an oil rig into Vietnamese-claimed territory.
Vietnam has also publicly promoted deepening security ties with the United States in recent weeks.
Observers say China is seeking to boost its trade dominance in the region amid a perceived American retreat from Asia - especially after US President Donald Trump pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal last year.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE