09/04/2012, 00.00
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Hanoi and Beijing discuss South China Sea at strategic talks

Top Vietnamese and Chinese officials met yesterday in the Vietnamese capital. Closer bilateral relations and cooperation are among their goals. Beijing wants greater security in the Asia-Pacific region. Expert warns however that it will never compromise its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Clinton calls for ASEAN unity on the issue.

Hanoi (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The third Vietnam-China strategic defence dialogue was held in Hanoi on Monday. Chaired by Vietnam's Deputy Minister of National Defence, Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh, and Chinese Senior Lieutenant General Ma Xiaotian, the meeting was aimed at boosting cooperation, settling differences, and developing bilateral relations and the two countries' traditional friendship, which goes back to Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh. In effect, both sides want to renew the old alliance between historic partners, currently at odds over the South China Sea. Security in the Asia-Pacific region is also an important issue for the United States. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is on a diplomatic mission in Asia to urge ASEAN nations (ten nations in Southeast Asia) to keep a united front against Beijing.

During the summit, General Vinh emphasised the importance of the dialogue, which will contribute to defence cooperation between the two armies, as well as the Vietnam-China relationship in general. He also reaffirmed Vietnam's consistent stance on its ties with China in implementing signed agreements on defence cooperation.

For his part, General Ma stressed that China attached great importance to defence cooperation with Vietnam. In the current regional and global contexts, he said China would continue pursuing bilateral dialogues even though other nations want a multilateral resolution to regional and global border disputes.

The Hanoi meeting is part of Beijing's diplomatic offensive this year. Top foreign affairs and military officials have undertaken missions and official visits to at least 20 nations, especially in the Asia-Pacific region.

For Meng Xiangqing, deputy director of the Strategic Research Institute at the National Defence University of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), China is increasingly using military diplomacy to supplement other exchanges.

The central feature of Beijing's diplomacy is to create a secure region, but "it will not yield when sovereignty and territory are concerned," he said.

One place of contention are the Spratly and Paracel Islands, two groups of atolls in the South China Sea, are claimed by China, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan, Philippines and Malaysia. They are thought to have great potential for oil and gas.

In the past, Manila and Hanoi had slammed Beijing's aggressive and imperialistic stance on the matter. Recent incidents involving fishing boats from all three nations show how sensitive the issue is.

In the case of Manila and Beijing, tensions rose in April when Chinese patrol boats stopped Filipino Navy ships off the Scarborough Shoal to prevent them from stopping Chinese trawlers that strayed into waters claimed by the Philippines.

The United States is also particularly concerned by Beijing's hegemonic ambitions. For this reason, they have boosted their naval presence in the region.

On a mission to Asia, US Secretary Clinton said that Southeast Asian nations must present a united front to the Chinese in dealing with territorial disputes in the South China Sea to "literally calm the waters" in the South China Sea.

From Jakarta, Indonesia's capital, she urged all involved to make "meaningful progress" on a process for ending conflicts "without coercion, without intimidation and certainly without the use of force".

However, during ASEAN's last summit, members failed to agree to a common stance against China.

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