Vietnam backs bilateral tack in solving sea disputes

SINGAPORE – Vietnamese Defense Minister Phung Quang Thanh said on Friday that disputes with China over the South China Sea should be solved without any interference from a third party.

He made the statement when meeting Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie on the sidelines of the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, an Asian security conference held by the International Institute of Strategic Studies.

Echoing Phung’s remarks, Liang said maritime sovereignty disputes should be solved through friendly negotiations and bilateral talks between the countries concerned.

Referring to China as a good brother, a good partner, a good friend and a good comrade, Phung said that the two militaries share a traditional friendship and will further enhance exchanges in various fields.

His speech was rational and mostly in line with China’s stance on the issue, said Su Hao, head of the Strategy and Conflict Management Research Center at China Foreign Affairs University.

“The South China Sea issue is a technical issue. The prior attempts by Vietnam to provoke disputes on a national level were unreasonable. But this time they are being rational,” Su said.

International maritime security cooperation is important to build a “harmonious marine area”, and to do so, countries should seek common security and common development while respecting coastal countries’ sovereignty and rights, said Liang.

Disputes over the South China Sea were aggravated last year after the United States claimed “national interests” in the sea at a regional security forum held in Vietnam, which also claims sovereignty of some islands in the sea.

China has always said its sovereignty over those islands is indisputable and insisted on pushing for a resolution through peaceful negotiations and friendly dialogue according to international law on bilateral platforms.

Beijing recently opposed Hanoi’s exploration of oil and gas in China’s jurisdictional sea area in the South China Sea, saying such actions violated China’s sovereignty.

To maintain and develop relations between China and its neighbor Vietnam is in line with the fundamental and long-term interests of both countries, Liang said. He added that China is willing to take the ties to a higher level.

“China is willing to continue comprehensive communication with Vietnam, and will be a good host of the coming fifth bilateral defense and security consultation,” Liang said.

Liang also met US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on Friday afternoon.

The two countries should “truly and sincerely” regard each other as a partner, rather than an opponent, Liang said.

Military relations between China and the US have experienced ups and downs in recent years, and hit a low point in 2010 after series of incidents including US arm sales to Taiwan, and military exercises in seas near China after the sinking of the South Korean naval ship Cheonan.

But ties warmed up with US President Barack Obama’s visit to China at the end of last year, followed by President Hu Jintao’s successful visit to the US in January. The recent visit by Chen Bingde, chief of the General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army, to the US also marked a step forward.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, is scheduled to visit China in the coming month.

Now the two militaries are on a positive track and facing new chances to develop relations, said Liang, adding that they face the common challenge of how to adapt to the new international and regional security situation.

“The Chinese and US militaries should truly attach importance to practical cooperation in defense and security, respect each other, and achieve mutual benefits step by step,” he noted.

Liang also said that bilateral cooperation on technical exchanges, humanitarian aid and anti-piracy should be further boosted.

Gates regarded military relations between the two as being on “a more positive trajectory”.

He will deliver a speech on Saturday in which he is expected to assure US allies that it will not cut its presence in Asia. The US has been sticking to its “back-to-Asia” policy ever since Obama took office.


By Ma Liyao (China Daily)

Cheng Guangjin contributed to this story.

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