HANOI, Oct. 15 -- The establishment of a bilateral work group to discuss joint maritime development was a "breakthrough" for China and Vietnam on their way to peacefully handle maritime disputes, analysts say.
During the talks with his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Tan Dung, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang urged the two sides to pursue substantive progress in their joint development in waters out of the mouth of the Beibu Bay, a semi-enclosed sea whose delimitation remains under negotiation between China and Vietnam, and accumulate experience for broader maritime cooperation.
Analysts said the establishment of the group sends a positive signal of the bilateral readiness for solving difficult problems through cooperation, and the two countries are taking a step-by-step approach in solving the disputes.
"Joint development in waters out of the mouth of the Beibu Bay is acceptable to both sides. The approach that the two countries are taking is to start with the easiest and then to the difficult," said Zhang Yunling, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
The relationship between China and Vietnam has been overshadowed by maritime frictions in the South China Sea, but the two countries have made efforts to maintain frequent high-level exchanges this year. Li's visit followed trips of the Vietnamese president, prime minister and deputy prime minister to China earlier this year.
The South China Sea issue involves several parties and the disputes between China and Vietnam are, in deed, bigger and more complicated, said Wu Shicun, president of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies (NISCSS).
"The agreement reached by China and Vietnam, undoubtedly, send a clear message to other claimants that putting aside bickering on sovereignty and sitting at the table for joint development is a pragmatic choice. The attempts to internationalize the South China Sea issue will result in the deterioration of bilateral ties and worsen the situation," Wu said.
The decision to establish the group was announced just two days after China and Brunei vowed in a statement to encourage closer joint exploration and exploitation of maritime oil and gas resources in the South China Sea.
In a pioneering move, China National Offshore Oil Corporation and Brunei National Petroleum Company Sendirian Berhad have inked a deal on establishing a joint venture on oil field services.
Considering that disputes between Beijing and Hanoi over the South China Sea have, from time to time, upset bilateral ties in recent years, the multiple results Li's visit to Vietnam achieved are clear evidence that the two neighbors are showing a greater political will to rise above their disputes and forge a mutually acceptable path of cooperation, said Qu Xing, president of the China Institute of International Studies.
Li returned to Beijing on Tuesday after attending the East Asia leaders meetings and paying official visits to Brunei, Thailand and Vietnam.