China and Vietnam have agreed to maintain peace over island disputes in the South China Sea, according to Chinese President Xi Jinping. He was speaking at the end of a two-day visit to Hanoi.
Vietnam and China have a "tight friendship" and "need to cooperate with each other in a complicated world," Xi told Vietnam's National Assembly on Friday.
In a speech aimed at mending strained relations, the Chinese president added that the two neighbors should be able to survive any "disruptions" in their friendship.
Xi's comments alluded to China and Vietnam's competing claims for territory in the South China Sea, which came to a head last year when Beijing parked an oil rig in waters off the Vietnamese coast.
The two countries agreed to maintain peace and stability in the Sea and act in a way that would "complicate" the issue, Chinese state television reported on Friday.
China's claims over most of the South China Sea, along with its massive land reclamation projects in the Spratly islands, have annoyed much of the rest of Asia, including Vietnam.
But Xi promised that Beijing wouldn't seek to impose its influence all over the region.
"China rejects that a country should seek hegemony once it grows strong," he said, adding that China would "deepen mutually beneficial cooperation" with neighboring countries.
During Xi's two-day visit to Vietnam, 12 agreements were signed on cultural exchanges, tourist development, construction loans for highway and rail projects, and aid from Beijing to support education and healthcare initiatives.
Testing the waters
Meanwhile, Vietnam agreed on Friday to allow a Japanese warship to visit a strategic base in the South China Sea, close to the disputed waters of the Spratly Islands. The two countries will also hold their first ever joint naval exercise.
The move is likely to add to China's irritation after a US guided-missile destroyer sailed close to the man-made outcrops last week.
While Japan has avoided antagonizing China with similar operations, it is nonetheless forging security ties with Southeast Asia nations, particularly Vietnam and the Philippines, that oppose China's ambitions in the South China Sea.
On Friday, China said the US Navy patrol had harmed mutual trust between Beijing and Washington and had added to regional tensions.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi repeated his displeasure to US Secretary of State John Kerry by phone, Chinese state media reported on Friday.
Some analysts believe that any tacit Vietnamese support for US calls for greater freedom of navigation in the Sea could further risks its relations with Beijing, which Hanoi shares $60 billion (55 billion euros) of annual trade.
On Thursday, US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter flew to a U.S. aircraft carrier transiting the disputed waters and blamed China for rising tensions in the region.
mm/kms (AP, dpa, Reuters)