BEIJING - In a development that reflects an easing of tension, China and Vietnam have agreed to solve their dispute over the South China Sea through negotiation.
State Councilor Dai Bingguo met with Vietnamese special envoy, Vice-Foreign Minister Ho Xuan Son, in Beijing on Saturday, according to a press release by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued on Sunday.
Both countries agreed to implement the consensus reached by their leaders and adopt effective measures to jointly safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea.
Agreement was reached "to prevent words and actions that would be detrimental to the friendship and mutual trust between the peoples of the two countries", the release said.
"The sound and steady development of Sino-Vietnamese ties conforms with the fundamental interests and common aspirations of the two peoples and is conducive to peace and stability in the region," it said.
Both countries also vowed to speed up consultation to agree a pact on the fundamental principles needed to solve maritime disputes between China and Vietnam, and pledged to sign it as soon as possible.
Relations between the two countries had been strained over the past month over sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea. Both countries conducted naval exercises but analysts said neither was interested in exacerbating the situation.
The meeting shows that both sides want to "cool the temperature" and don't want the South China Sea issue to worsen, according to Chu Hao, an expert on Vietnamese studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.
"The two countries share a common desire to develop their economies and this requires a stable environment. Tension in the South China Sea harms both," he told China Daily on Sunday.
Dai's talks with the Vietnamese special envoy are only "a beginning" and more negotiations are likely. "I am quite optimistic," he said.
Yang Baoyun, professor of Southeast Asian studies at Peking University, said the disputes over the South China Sea have, "to some extent", been exaggerated in the media.
The possibility of military conflict is remote, he said.
"Domestically, Vietnam is facing economic difficulties, such as inflation. On the global front, the United States does not support Vietnam going too far on this issue," he said.
Both China and Vietnam stressed advancing Sino-Vietnamese partnership in the spirit of "good neighbors, good friends, good comrades and good partners", the release said.