BEIJING (Dispatches) – Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has told a top Vietnamese official the two countries should refrain from unilateral actions regarding the South China Sea that could complicate the situation and magnify disputes.
Wang was speaking with Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh during a visit to Vietnam, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Saturday.
Vietnam is the first stop of Wang’s four-nation tour of the Asia Pacific region – a move seen as Beijing’s response to the recent visit of U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris to Southeast Asia.
Wang said the two countries should cherish the hard-won peace and stability achieved in the South China Sea, and be vigilant to resist the intervention of extraterritorial forces, the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s statement said.
According to reports, Wang was also scheduled to meet his counterpart Bui Thanh Son in Hanoi before attending a China-Vietnam meeting for bilateral cooperation.
On Friday, Vietnam announced that China is donating three million more doses of COVID-19 vaccine this year, raising China’s total vaccine donations to the Southeast Asian country to 5.7 million doses.
While China and Vietnam have maintained robust economic and diplomatic relations, tensions have also erupted in recent years due to their dispute over territories in the South China Sea.
In March, Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang complained that Chinese vessels at the Whitsun Reef, which Hanoi calls Da Ba Dau, had infringed on its sovereignty.
China says it has historical sovereignty over most of the waterway, but its neighbors and the United States say that claim has no basis in international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, to which China is a signatory.
The U.S. sees its rivalry with China as “the biggest geopolitical test” of the century, and Southeast Asia has seen a series of high-profile visits by top U.S. administration officials, including Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who visited Hanoi in late July. The visits have escalated tensions between the U.S. and China, which were already high due to a range of issues ranging from cybersecurity to human rights issues.
The South China Sea is a gateway to major sea routes, through which about 3.4 trillion dollars’ worth of trade passes each year, and contains huge gas fields and rich fishing grounds.