China's President Xi Jinping told a special envoy from Vietnam on Wednesday that both countries should be "friendly to each other" to help mend ties after a flare-up over sovereignty in the South China Sea, the official Xinhua news agency said.
The visit to Beijing by Le Hong Anh, a member of the Vietnamese Communist Party's powerful Politburo, is the first sign of a concerted effort to heal the rift between the two countries, which share annual trade worth $50 billion.
"(I) hope the Vietnamese will make joint efforts with the Chinese to put the bilateral relationship back on the right track of development," Xinhua quoted Xi as telling Le Hong Anh.
"A neighbor cannot be moved away and it is in the common interests of both sides to be friendly to each other."
Earlier, Liu Yunshan, a member of China's elite Politburo Standing Committee, was quoted by Xinhua as telling the visitor that both sides should bring bilateral relations back on track.
"China-Vietnam relations for a while have been tense and difficult, which we do not want to see," Liu said, adding that Le Hong Anh's visit reflected the Vietnamese government's "political will to mend and develop bilateral relations".
Under an agreement reached between Liu and the visitor, China and Vietnam will earnestly implement a basic guideline for the resolution of China-Vietnam maritime issues signed in October 2011, Xinhua said.
They agreed to seek lasting solutions acceptable to both sides, studying joint exploration of the East Sea, the Vietnamese term for the South China Sea, and avoiding actions that complicate disputes, it added.
On May 2, China deployed an oil rig in Vietnam’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone in the East Sea, sending Sino-Vietnamese ties plunging toward their lowest point in decades and triggering two months of restrained skirmishes between coast guard vessels at sea.
The oil rig row moved Vietnam's leadership to ramp up economic and strategic engagement with the US and its treaty ally Japan, which is itself embroiled in a dispute with China over a series of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.
China withdrew the rig in mid-July. Although the crisis appears over for the moment and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has demanded that China not send any more rigs into Vietnamese waters, most expect the rig will be back soon.
"China wanted to make a point by deploying its oil rig and it succeeded in doing so. China will do so again if and when it decides to," Mohan Malik, another security analyst at the Hawaii-based Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, told Thanh Nien News.