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Vietnam’s President Nguyen Phu Trong has called on Xi Jinping to “work together” to resolve the territory dispute. It comes after Beijing has ramped up military drills near the islands in a show of force and “sovereignty”. It also follows China’s increased military presences near other disputed regions close to India and throughout the South China Sea.
Mr Nguyen has called for talks with Mr Xi over the countries competing claims over the South China Sea.
Both Vietnam and China claim ownership over the Paracel Islands, which has seen Beijing increase military pressure over Vietnam.
Mr Nguyen suggested the countries should “work together to address their existing problems, especially on maritime issues”, and stressed cooperation over conflict.
The Chinese foreign ministry has echoed Vietnam’s president, and added they want a peaceful resolution over the territory claims.
Mr Xi has hailed the calls for cooperation over the islands, and praised Mr Nguyen’s leadership.
He said relations between Vietnam and China had reached a “new historic starting point” as they mark the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations.
But the praise for diplomacy followed China’s aggressive military drills near disputed Vietnamese territory.
Since Monday, China has launched four maritime military drills, including near the Paracel Islands and the Hoang Sa in Vietnam, for the third time this year.
The military pressure has led to mass protests in Vietnam, who decried Beijing’s aggressive approach to southeast Asian relations.
In June, Vietnam’s foreign ministry launched a complaint against China after five days of constant drills near the Paracel Islands.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said at the time: “China’s drills around (the Paracels) seriously violate Vietnam’s sovereignty.”
She added the drills were “detrimental to the relationship between China and ASEAN”, and promised to challenge their claims.
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Collin Koh, research fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, told the South China Morning Post China threatened Vietnam into diplomacy in a typical display of Beijing’s military power.
He added: “China is backing up talk with muscle flexing just to press home the point to Vietnam that it’s being outgunned and there’s nothing in Hanoi’s interest to try to do anything.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also called on southeast Asian countries to not “just speak up but act” against Chinese “bullying” in the region.
He added in virtual summit with foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations: “Reconsider business dealings with the very state-owned companies that bully ASEAN coastal states in the South China Sea.
“Don’t let the Chinese Communist Party walk over us and our people.”
China has launched military drills in multiple contested areas this year, raising international alarm at its push towards territory.
China has launched its third round of drills near the Taiwan Strait yesterday, and is using live ammunition.
Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu claimed China was increasing “diplomatic suppression and military threats” which could lead to a military conflict in the waters.
The US has also enraged China by sending American naval fleets for live fire drills in the South China Sea.
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