BEIJING, Jun (Reuters) - China and Vietnam pledged on Sunday to resolve their maritime dispute through peaceful negotiations, a sign of easing tension over rival claims in the South China Sea which is believed to be rich in oil and gas.
Relations between the old rivals have been strained over the past month because of a flare-up in a long-standing disagreement over sovereignty in the South China Sea.
State Councilor Dai Bingguo, China's foreign affairs tsar, and Vietnamese Vice Foreign Minister Ho Xuan Son held talks in Beijing after Ho met his Chinese counterpart, Zhang Zhijun, the ministry said on its website (www.fmprc.gov.cn) said.
The two sides agreed to "peacefully resolve their maritime disputes through negotiations and friendly consultations," the ministry said.
Both sides also agreed 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," it said.
"Healthy and steady development of Sino-Vietnamese relations accords with the basic interests and common aspirations of the peoples of both countries and is also conducive to regional peace, stability and development," the ministry added.
China and Vietnam have traded accusations over what each sees as intrusions into its waters in a sea crossed by major shipping lanes and thought to hold large deposits of oil and gas.
Such accusations are not uncommon between China, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan, which are also involved in long-standing maritime disputes.
The latest spell of tension began last month when Hanoi said Chinese boats had harassed a Vietnamese oil exploration ship. Beijing said Vietnamese oil and gas exploration undermined its rights in the South China Sea.
The two sides have conducted independent naval exercises but analysts say neither has an interest in pushing the dispute to the brink of violence.
Last week China urged the United States to leave the South China Sea dispute to the claimant states, saying U.S. involvement could make the situation worse, its most direct warning to Washington in recent weeks.
Earlier this month, navy ships from Vietnam and China held a two-day joint patrol in the Gulf of Tonkin, according to Vietnamese state media.
Two Vietnamese vessels docked in the city of Zhanjiang in China's southern Guangdong province -- the second port call by Vietnamese ships to China since 2009, Vietnamese media reported.
(Reporting by Benjamin Kang Lim; Editing by Sugita Katyal)