|China's says its biggest civilian maritime patrol ship is in the region to protect its 'rights and sovereignty' [Reuters]
China and Vietnam have pledged to resolve their maritime dispute over the oil- and gas-rich South China Sea through peaceful negotiations without foreign intervention.
The agreement was reached following talks between China's foreign affairs chief Dai Bingguo and Vietnam's vice foreign minister Ho Xuan Son on Sunday.
The two sides agreed to "peacefully resolve their maritime disputes through negotiations and friendly consultations" and to "strengthen public opinion guidance to prevent words and actions that would be detrimental to the friendship and mutual trust between the peoples of the two countries".
The agreed thaw follows years of hostility between the two countries.
Hanoi last month had accused Chinese boats of harassing a Vietnamese oil exploration ship while Beijing alleged that Vietamese activities were undermining its rights.
Neighbourly tensions and accusations are common place between China, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan who are all vying for the supposedly resource-rich Spratly and Paracel islands to feed their power-hungry economies.
The long-standing oceanic wrangles recently provoked Vietnamese protesters into marching through Hanoi's streets for a fourth straight week, calling for China to respect their space and sovereignty.
Protests in communist Vietnam are extremely rare and are typically suppressed by security forces, but these were allowed to go on for the past four Sundays, albeit amid tight security.
Both sides have conducted independent naval exercises, but analysts say neither has an interest in pushing the dispute to the brink of violence.
Beijing and Washington also helds talks on the thorny issue on Saturday.
China has urged the United States to leave the dispute to the claimant states, saying its involvement could make the situation worse.
Kurt Campbell, US assistant secretary of state for east Asian and Pacific affairs, while acknowledging the detailed discussions on the region and maritime security, offered few details.
"We want tensions to subside," Campbell said. "We have a strong interest in the maintenance of peace and stability. And we are seeking a dialogue among all the key players."
His counterpart in the talks, China's vice foreign minister Cui Tiankai, did not make himself available to the media.
Cui told foreign reporters in Beijing last week that China had not provoked any incidents and instead suggested if Washington wanted to play a role, it should urge restraint from other claimants.
The US views the accessibility to the East Sea passage, as it is known in Vietnam, as in its national interest, primarily because it is home to key shipping lanes.