Beijing and Hanoi have agreed to seek fundamental solutions to disputes over the South China Sea through dialogue, with their defense ministers concluding talks on March 30.
The two countries have “both the wisdom and capability to control disputes and tackle the South China Sea issue properly”, State Councilor and Defense Minister Chang Wanquan told reporters.
He was speaking at a joint news conference in Pingxiang, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, after holding “candid” discussions with his Vietnamese counterpart, Phung Quang Thanh.
The two held a third border meeting that started on March 28 in Lang Son, Vietnam.
Thanh said at the news conference that although Vietnam and China hold different positions on the South China Sea, “we both agreed to handle the issue through peaceful and friendly negotiations on the basis of international law, while abiding by the consensus reached by our leaders”.
Bilateral ties have been hampered in recent years, as the two countries both claim territory in the South China Sea.
Before the border meeting, Chang met on March 27 in Hanoi with Thanh and General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Nguyen Phu Trong, who said Vietnam values cooperation with China.
He added that military cooperation has played a major role in pushing forward relations between the two countries.
Trong visited Beijing in April last year, and President Xi Jinping visited Hanoi in November, helping to improve bilateral relations.
Chang said the two militaries have reached a consensus to increase high-level exchanges and boost personnel training, as well as expanding cooperation on military academic research, the defense sector and UN peacekeeping.
Sharing a border of more than 1,450 kilometers, China and Vietnam started joint border patrols in 2012, and on March 30 morning the two ministers witnessed patrols on both sides of the border.
Chang said the aim of the latest border meeting is to implement the agreement reached by the two countries’ leaders, and strengthen the political trust and pragmatic cooperation of both armies to contribute to peace and stability along the border.
Major Wang Mingwen, head of the Chinese patrol squad, said the joint patrols help to avoid misunderstandings and conflict between the two armies in handling problems such as “incursions” by people living near the border to plant crops, or other illegal activities.
By conducting the patrols, communication with the Vietnamese can be established to unify their countermeasures when dealing with similar problems, Wang said.
Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Xuan Thang, head of the Vietnamese squad, said the joint patrols also help to strengthen friendship and trust between soldiers.
Jia Duqiang, a researcher of Southeast Asia studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ National Institute of International Strategy, said the ministers’ remarks show that the two countries will not let the South China Sea dispute affect overall relations.
Jia said the experience and trust accumulated in previous border negotiations will be conducive to the eventual solution to the South China Sea dispute, which is the only remaining border dispute between the two countries.