China and Vietnam have agreed to speed up negotiations towards ending a long-running spat over the East Sea, media in both countries reported on Thursday, as Beijing continued a campaign to defuse tension.
Both countries, as well as the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan, have conflicting claims of sovereignty over parts of the potentially oil- and gas-rich body of water that is crossed by key shipping lanes.
Last week, the Philippines and China agreed on the need for a binding code of conduct in the East Sea, also known as the South China Sea, when Philippine President Benigno Aquino visited Beijing.
In Hanoi, China's top foreign affairs official, State Councilor Dai Bingguo, co-chaired closed-door discussions this week, which analysts see as paving the way for a visit to China by Vietnam's new Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong, possibly later this year.
The two sides "agreed to intensify the efforts to speed up the negotiation and work out a mutually agreeable solution on the issue, and pledged to work hard to sign an agreement as early as possible", China's Xinhua news agency reported.
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, who met Dai on Wednesday, said differences of opinion over the East Sea were an objective fact, and the two sides needed "to hasten negotiations to sign an agreement on basic principles" for settling the dispute, the Vietnam News reported.
A big sticking point between China and the other claimants is Beijing's insistence on settling differences on a bilateral basis rather than in a multilateral forum.
"There are many facets to the East Sea issue and we think bilateral problems should be resolved bilaterally but multilateral problems must be resolved multilaterally," Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga told a news conference.
In July, China and Southeast Asian countries agreed on a preliminary set of guidelines in the South China Sea, a rare sign of cooperation in a row that has plagued relations in the region for years.
Dai, who outranks Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, told Trong he hoped Trong would visit China soon, the Vietnam News reported.
In May and June, Vietnam protested against Chinese maritime vessels's harassing and intentionally damaging equipment being towed by Vietnamese ships operating within Vietnam's exclusive economic zone in the East Sea.
China denied that its ships had done anything wrong.