With Vietnam holding live-fire military exercises in response to what it saw as China’s provocative harassing of its vessels last month and this, and with China accusing other claimants to territory in the South China Sea as ‘playing with fire,’ there were genuine concerns over a potential military clash.
Tensions were eased somewhat when the two countries announced they were holding joint naval patrols in the Gulf of Tomkin. And now, following a meeting between Chinese State Councillor, Dai Bingguo and Vietnamese Vice Foreign Minister, Ho Xuan Son, the two sides have stressed they will ‘make joint efforts so as to avoid actions detrimental to bilateral friendship and mutual trust.’
The People’s Daily, meanwhile, reported that both countries had pledged ‘to speed up consultation to reach a pact on the “fundamental principles” that are needed to solve maritime disputes’ between the two, adding that they had ‘pledged to sign it as soon as possible.’
Concerns that the United States might be drawn more deeply into the dispute following Vietnamese and Philippine requests for international involvement may have prodded China toward bilateral discussions. Of course, there has so far been little indication of what form these new talks will take. But the fact that the two are talking not posturing is clearly welcome.