Hanoi (AFP) April 21, 2011
Vietnam and China have agreed to take the first steps towards settling territorial disputes in the South China Sea, a government official in Hanoi said on Thursday, after years of deadlock.
The deal to set out a framework for talks was struck during a visit this week by the Chinese deputy foreign minister, Zhang Zhijun, who met with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.
"During this meeting the two sides agreed they will sign an agreement on the fundamental guidelines to settle the maritime issues," foreign ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga told a press briefing.
She said this would serve as "the basis to resolve the concrete issues" in the sea, in line with UN conventions, although the timing of the pact signing has not been fixed and negotiations are still underway.
"Both sides expressed their determination to soon complete this agreement," she said.
Beijing and Hanoi have a long-standing dispute in the South China Sea over the sovereignty of the Paracel archipelago and the more southerly Spratlys, both potentially resource-rich rocky outcrops that straddle strategic shipping lanes.
Vietnam has reported numerous cases of fishing boats and equipment being seized by China in disputed areas since 2009.
The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan also claim all or part of the Spratlys, and China's increasingly assertive role in the area has raised tensions with other countries in the region as well as the United States.
China and all members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), including Vietnam, signed a Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC), in 2002.
Vietnam's state media reported last month that US oil giant ExxonMobil will begin exploratory drilling off central Vietnam in late April, potentially angering China, which has reportedly objected to similar plans in the past.
The project will be located at "Block 119" off Danang city and the adjacent Quang Ngai province, the Vietnam News reported, but it was not immediately clear if the drilling was in the disputed area.
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