Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Vietnam: Agreeing to disagree

China and Vietnam have climbed down from months of tense stand-off over territorial claims in the South China Sea by agreeing during a meeting in Hanoi to 'negotiations and peaceful, friendly consultations' to find a compromise. The two governments also decided to speed up talks and to sign an agreement as soon as possible.

China has long squabbled with its southern neighbours – not only Vietnam but also the Philippines, Malaysia, and others in Southeast Asia – over ownership of the Spratly and Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. It claims a large swath of the maritime territory, including areas that the other countries insist fall within internationally recognised maritime borders within 200km from their coastline.

This summer, Chinese ships raised hackles in both Hanoi and Manila by acting in ways that were viewed by the Southeast Asian governments as provocative and aggressive.

The agreement between China and Vietnam was signed on 6 September, the fifth anniversary of the establishment of a China–Vietnam Steering Committee on Cooperation. The two parties agreed that under the 'current, complex international environment' it made sense for the neighbours to attempt a reconciliation.

Earlier, in late August during a meeting in Beijing, the two governments agreed to establish a hotline linking the two defence ministries and to expand military ties using the exchange of official delegations and students. China also promised to share its experiences working with UN peacekeeping forces, something Vietnam has not done but in which it has expressed an interest.

For more news and expert analysis about Vietnam, please see Vietnam Focus.

© 2011 Menas Associates

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