Vietnam, China hold talks over disputed sea borders

by AFP, Nov 15, 2002 | Destinations: China / Beijing

HANOI, Nov 15, 2002 - Vietnam and China have held talks in Hanoi over their maritime borders in a bid to capitalise on an agreement between Southeast Asian nations and Beijing over conflicting claims in the South China Sea, state media said Friday.

During three days of meetings that ended Thursday, the two sides expressed their determination "to preserve peace and stability and continue negotiations in a positive manner," the ruling Communist Party's Nhan Dan newspaper said.

The two neighbours signed an accord in December 2000 setting out their sea borders in the Gulf of Tonkin, but it has not been ratified by either side due to criticism from high ranking Vietnamese officials over the concessions made by Hanoi to Beijing.

The eighth round of talks between the bitter rivals, which kicked off in 1993, are due to take place in China next year.

Both parties reaffirmed their commitment to an agreement signed in Cambodia earlier this month by foreign ministers of the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries and China, the party mouthpiece said.

Under the accord, all parties pledged to refrain from activities that would escalate tensions in the region.

The Spratly Islands, a potentially oil-rich archipelago, have long been a potential flashpoint, and are claimed by ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, as well as China and Taiwan.

Vietnam and China also have competing claims to the Paracel Islands.

Ideological soulmates but historical rivals, China invaded Vietnam in February 1979, following Hanoi's intervention in Cambodia in December 1978 to oust Beijing's Khmer Rouge allies.

The pair came to blows again in 1988 in the Spratlys, when nearly 90 Vietnamese sailors were killed during a brief sea battle.

Ties improved in 1991 when they normalised relations, but a brief naval clash near the Spratlys the following year threatened to derail relations again.

Their December 1999 land border treaty was only agreed after six years of torturous talks, which were complicated by Vietnamese accusations that Chinese troops had moved some 100 border markers during the 1979 conflict.

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