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China; Vietnam: South China Sea Agreement

(Oct. 17, 2011) On October 11, 2011, China and Vietnam signed an agreement aimed at resolving their disputes over control of parts of the South China Sea. The maritime borders at issue, over which Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Taiwan also have made claims, cover an area that has the potential to produce both oil and natural gas. In recent months there have been frequent protests in Hanoi against China's position on the South China Sea dispute. (China, Vietnam Sign Deal to Resolve Sea Dispute, THE JAKARTA POST (Oct. 12, 2011); China-Vietnam Agreement to Guide Settlement of Maritime Issues: Spokesman, ENGLISH.NEWS.CN (Oct. 12, 2011).)

The six-point agreement contains basic principles to be used to guide a resolution of the dispute. These principles include maintaining friendly consultations to handle maritime issues and make the South China Sea a peaceful, cooperative area, the agreement states. The two sides should work to establish a maritime demarcation of the mouth of the Beibu Gulf, as well as discuss joint development of the region. The agreement also calls for cooperation in marine environmental protection, scientific research, search and rescue operations, and disaster prevention and reduction. A hotline will be created to facilitate prompt communication over maritime issues, and meetings will be held twice a year. (ENGLISH.NEWS.CN, supra; Michael Bristow, China and Vietnam Sign Deal on South China Sea Dispute, BBC NEWS (Oct. 12, 2011).)

Speaking the day after the agreement was concluded, Liu Weimin of China's Foreign Ministry hailed the document, stating that it was “a positive step in the process of negotiating maritime issues. … it will provide important guidelines for the two countries to resolve maritime issues.” (ENGLISH.NEWS.CN, supra.)