China and Vietnam have agreed to boost maritime cooperation in the disputed South China Sea.
At the conclusion of a visit to Vietnam by Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang Tuesday, the two sides released a joint statement pledging to find a solution to their disputes through negotiation and consultation.
They also agreed to establish a maritime work group for joint development at sea within the framework of existing bilateral border talks.
Vietnam’s former consul general to Guangzhou, China, Duong Danh Dy, said Vietnamese Service that China seemed to soften its stance in dealing with Vietnam during Prime Minister Li's visit.
"China is currently isolated due to its territorial disputes with other countries like Japan over the East China Sea and Philippines and Vietnam over the South China Sea," Dy said. "Facing fierce resistance from nations involved, China wants to show that it is not an aggressive country that pursues expansionism."
But the former diplomat said the statement of strengthening cooperation between the two countries over territorial disputes does not carry any real substance.
"It’s just diplomatic rhetoric," he added. "Vietnamese and Chinese interests over the South China Sea are like fire and water. Both countries claim sovereignty over the disputed islands in the area. The Chinese government has a long-term expansionist goal and it is willing to wait for an opportunity in 10, 20, 30 or even 100 years. It would not give up the South China Sea unless China is weakened."
China has territorial disputes in the South China Sea with Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines, all members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN.
China is working with ASEAN on a long-delayed, legally binding Code of Conduct to manage the maritime tensions, but Beijing is reluctant to discuss the disputes at multilateral forums such as ASEAN. It instead prefers dealing with each country individually, giving it a much stronger position in any negotiations.
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.