Chinese premier urges Vietnam to calm troubled South China Sea waters

Premier Li Keqiang told Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc on Monday to abide by a high-level consensus to contain tensions in the South China Sea over maritime disputes.

In his talks with Phuc, who is on the third day of his first official visit to China, Li also called on the two nations to deepen cooperation over defence matters and in law enforcement.

Phuc, in turn, told Li that the Vietnamese government was set on maintaining friendly ties with Beijing, CCTV reported.

“Vietnam will always remember the help from China on Vietnam’s national liberation and economic building,” Phuc said.

“[We should] deepen communications on areas of low sensitivity, and not let maritime issues affect bilateral ties.”

The question facing Vietnam’s PM on his first China visit: how close to get to Beijing

Phuc’s visit is the first by a top Vietnamese leader since a major power reshuffle in the country’s communist party earlier this year. It follows a visit by Vietnam’s defence minister in late August.

The visits are seen as part of ­efforts by the two communist neighbours to slowly mend their ties despite simmering tensions over overlapping sovereignty claims in the South China Sea.

Phuc was in Nanning, Guangxi, on Saturday on the first stop in his six-day visit, where he told Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli that the two countries were “comrades”.

However, Beijing has shown concern over Hanoi’s warming ties with Tokyo and New Delhi.

Before the trip to China, Phuc had already journeyed to Russia and Japan since becoming Vietnam’s prime minister in April.

Multimedia special: 70 years of construction, conflict and combat on the South China Sea

And during a visit to Hanoi last week en route to the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered to provide a US$500 million loan for defence cooperation.

Observers have also noted growing pressure from the Vietnamese public over the South China Sea row this year. Activists in Hanoi staged a rare protest in March to mark the anniversary of a 1988 skirmish over the Johnson South Reef in the Spratly Islands. It killed 64 Vietnamese soldiers in what has been the last violent clash between the two nations.