BEIJING, June 2 (Reuters) – China and Vietnam are committed to finding a peaceful solution to a festering maritime territorial dispute and will continue dialogue, Chinese state media said on Monday.
The two countries dispute sovereignty over the Spratly Islands, a string of rocky outcrops in the South China Sea suspected of containing large oil and gas deposits and also claimed by Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines. The neighbours would finish marking their land borders by the end of this year, the official People’s Daily said, carrying a joint statement between the two sides signed during a visit by Vietnam Communist Party general secretary Nong Duc Manh. “Both sides agree to strictly abide by the consensus of those at the highest levels to jointly preserve stability in the southern seas and to maintain the dialogue mechanism for the maritime question,” it said.
“Both sides uphold to have peaceful dialogue to seek a fundamental and long-term solution that both sides can accept,” the document said.
China supported the Vietnamese Communists in their decades-long war against South Vietnam and its U.S. sponsors.
But Vietnam has traditionally been wary of its larger Asian neighbour and in 1979 the two countries fought a brief border war after Vietnam occupied Cambodia and overthrew the murderous Khmer Rouge regime that favoured Beijing.
Beijing and Hanoi normalised relations in 1991.
In 1988, China and Vietnam fought a brief naval battle near one of the Spratly reefs in which more than 70 Vietnamese sailors died.
Another set of islets further north of the Spratly group, the Paracel Islands, were seized by China in 1974 and have been occupied by them ever since despite Vietnamese protests.
Though Vietnam and China have agreed to cooperate in oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of Tonkin in the north, last June BP halted plans to conduct exploration work off the southern Vietnamese coast, citing the territorial tensions.
And in December China chided Vietnam after protests in front of the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi proclaiming that the Spratly and Paracel islands belonged to the Vietnamese. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard)