(Changes second reference to minister’s name)
BEIJING, June 4 (Reuters) - China said it is committed to maintaining peace in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, as Beijing tries to put on a friendlier face following a week of tension with Manila and Hanoi over the issue.
Both Vietnam and the Philippines have complained about Chinese activity and even harassment in the contested South China Sea over the past week or so.
Meeting in Singapore, Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie told his Vietnamese counterpart Phung Quang Thanh that both should resolve their disputes peacefully. Hanoi had said it would use its navy to enforce its territorial integrity.
“The involved countries should resolve their disputes over maritime sovereignty rights through friendly negotiations and bilateral talks,” the official Xinhua news agency, in a report late on Friday, quoted Liang as telling Thanh.
“It is in the fundamental and long-term interests of both China and Vietnam to maintain and grow bilateral relations.”
Thanh told Liang that “the two countries should resolve their differences over the South China Sea through bilateral efforts, and that no third country should be allowed to interfere in such efforts or use the issue to harm bilateral relations”, Xinhua said.
The People’s Army daily, run by Vietnam’s Defence Ministry, said Thanh expressed his concern to Liang about last week’s incident when three Chinese patrol boats challenged a Vietnamese oil exploration ship in the South China Sea.
“Sometimes, regrettable cases happen which are beyond the expectations of both sides,” Thanh was quoted as saying.
“The case is creating a pressing issue among the people and raised concern among the state and party leaders of Vietnam,” Thanh said, referring to the Petrovietnam ship incident.[ID:nL3E7GR1HL]
In a separate statement from China’s Foreign Ministry, also issued late on Friday, spokesman Hong Lei denied what it said were reports three Chinese ships warned off Vietnamese fishermen in the seas near the Spratly Islands.
“These reports are totally fictitious,” Hong said in a statement on the ministry’s website (www.mfa.gov.cn).
“China has always been committed to maintaining the peace and stability of the South China Sea, and is willing to work with other countries to ... create peace, friendship and cooperation in the South China Sea,” he added.
China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all claim territories in the South China Sea, which cover an important shipping route and are thought to hold untapped oil and gas reserves. [ID:nSGE6950BX]
China’s claim is by far the largest, forming a vast U-shape over most of the sea’s 648,000 square miles (1.7 million square km), including the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard, additional reporting by Ho Binh Minh in Hanoi, Editing by Jonathan Thatcher)