China, Vietnam pledge to deal with border disputes

BEIJING (AP) — The prime ministers of China and Vietnam pledged on Oct. 16 to handle border disputes between their countries peacefully, amid deep suspicion among some Vietnamese over Beijing’s intentions.

The two countries have clashed in the past over claims to islands in the South China Sea, including some with possible large oil and natural gas reserves. China also launched a brief but bloody invasion of Vietnam’s north in 1979.

China’s Wen Jiabao told Nguyen Tan Dung that Beijing wants to “enhance political mutual trust with Vietnam and properly handle border and South China Sea issues,” the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Nguyen replied that Vietnam would “properly settle the South China Sea issue and other problems via friendly negotiation with China so as to preserve the development of bilateral ties,” Xinhua said.

Relations have warmed considerably over the past decade, alongside growth in trade and regional cooperation. The two countries signed a land border agreement in 1999, but it took them nine years to demarcate the 840-mile frontier.

Suspicion of Chinese intentions has become a rallying cry for government critics in Vietnam in recent years, sparking online complaints and street protests.

Last month, the government scrambled to calm public outrage by punishing the editor of the official Communist Party website for running an article that seemed to endorse China’s position in a dispute over the largely uninhabited Paracel Islands.

Another dispute over the Spratly Islands has prompted widespread concern among Vietnamese bloggers, along with Chinese involvement with a bauxite mine in Vietnam’s Central Highlands.

Recently, two Vietnamese bloggers and an online journalist were briefly detained for posting entries critical of the government’s handling of relations with China. ♦

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