Working group to discuss sea issues

Updated: 2013-10-14 00:56

By LI XIAOKUN in Hanoi and ZHANG YUNBI in Beijing (China Daily)

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Working group to discuss sea issues

Premier Li Keqiang and his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Tan Dung chat as they walk in the garden of the Presidential Palace in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Sunday. The two countries announced the establishment of a joint working group on sea development. Kham / Reuters

'Breakthrough' could help China, Vietnam handle disputes

China and Vietnam will establish a bilateral working group to discuss joint maritime development, a move analysts said is a "breakthrough" for the neighbors to peacefully handle disputes.

The countries will establish two other working groups regarding infrastructure and financial cooperation, Premier Li Keqiang and his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Tan Dung told reporters at a news conference after their talks on Sunday.

The operations of the three working groups will start this year, and the establishment of the maritime joint development working group "in particular sends a positive signal of the bilateral readiness for solving difficult problems through cooperation", Li told Dung during the talks.

"We are satisfied with the contents of the talks and speak highly of them," Dung told reporters at the news conference.

The relationship between Vietnam and China has been overshadowed by maritime frictions in the South China Sea.

Jia Duqiang, a Southeast Asian studies expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said seeking a solution to maritime disputes has been a "major headache" in the past few years for not only China but also for some members of ASEAN such as Vietnam and the Philippines.

"Hanoi has already realized that it is unrealistic to count on Washington to give public support to its claims on some islands.

"Therefore, putting aside bickering on sovereignty and sitting at the table for joint development is a pragmatic choice," Jia said.

The two countries have already established a preliminary joint working group to push forward joint development in the waters outside the mouth of the Beibu Gulf. The first round of talks of the group began in May last year.

Li is on his first Southeast Asian tour after he became premier in March. The trip has taken him to Brunei and Thailand.

The China-Vietnam joint development plan was released just two days after China and Brunei vowed in a joint statement to encourage closer joint exploration and exploitation of maritime oil and gas resources in the South China Sea.

Also on Sunday, China and Vietnam signed cooperative documents and agreements in fields including economy, trade, investment, transportation and shipping, finance, and science and technology.

China and Vietnam also signed a memorandum of understanding to construct a cross-border economic cooperation zone.

Despite ups and downs over the sea, Beijing and Hanoi have maintained frequent high-level exchanges this year.

Li's tour followed the trip by the Vietnamese president, prime minister and deputy prime minister to China earlier this year.

Wu Shicun, head of the National Institute of South China Sea Studies, said the visit shows the world that "policymakers of the two countries have already reached consensus to jointly control the South China Sea crisis and nurture mutual trust".

China is Vietnam's largest trade partner and China has increased investment on infrastructure construction in Vietnam.

"The two countries will further underscore the cooperation and play down maritime frictions," Wu said.

China and Vietnam are important neighbors linked by land and sea, as well as being socialist countries, and "both sides attach great importance to developing China-Vietnam relations", Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Liu Zhenmin told reporters before the premier's tour.

Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang visited China in June, and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung traveled to Nanning for the 10th China-ASEAN Expo last month.

Qu Xing, president of the China Institute of International Studies, said "joint law enforcement, connectivity building and infrastructure construction" will make sure the onshore cooperation between China and Vietnam bears considerable fruit.

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