China, Vietnam should avoid magnifying S. China Sea disputes - China's Wang Yi

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HANOI/SHANGHAI (Reuters) -China and Vietnam should refrain from unilateral actions regarding the South China Sea that could complicate the situation and magnify disputes, senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi told a Vietnamese official, China's foreign ministry said.

State Councillor Wang was speaking with Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh during a visit to Vietnam, the ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

Wang's visit to Vietnam, part of his week-long Southeast Asian tour, came about two weeks after U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris' trip to the region.

The Vietnamese prime minister said in a meeting with the Chinese ambassador just hours before Harris' visit that Vietnam did not align itself with one country against any other.

China says it has historical sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, but its neighbours and the United States say that claim has no basis in international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to which China is a signatory.

Beijing's claim overlaps with Vietnam's exclusive economic zone, or EEZ, as well as those of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan. Trillions of dollars in trade flow every year through the waterway, which also contains rich fishing grounds and gas fields.

Wang said the two countries should cherish the hard-won peace and stability achieved in the South China Sea and be vigilant to resist the intervention of extraterritorial forces, the Chinese ministry's statement said.

Vietnam's Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh said in a government statement it was important that two countries respect each other's legitimate rights and interests, in accordance with international law and UNCLOS.

The two sides agreed to continue to strictly adhere to high-level common perceptions, manage disagreements, avoid complicating situations or expanding disputes and jointly maintain peace and stability in the disputed waters, the Vietnamese government statement added.

Vietnam said China would donate 3 million more doses of COVID-19 vaccine to Vietnam this year, raising China's total vaccine donations to the country to 5.7 million doses.

Alongside Wang's visit, Vietnamese defence minister on Saturday met with his Japanese counterpart Nobuo Kishi on Kishi's first trip overseas after assuming the post last year, Kyodo news agency reported.

Japan and Vietnam signed a deal enabling exports of Japanese-made defence equipment and technology to the Southeast Asian country to "boost cooperation amid China's rising assertiveness in regional waters", Kyodo said.

The deal was struck last year during Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's visit https://www.reuters.com/article/us-japan-southeastasia-vietnam-defence-idUSKBN2740C0 to Vietnam.

"Japan will speed up talks with Vietnam to sell Self-Defense Forces' vessels," Kyodo quoted Kishi as saying.

The two ministers also agreed on the importance of maintaining peace, security, freedom of navigation and overflight, Kyodo reported.

(Reporting by Brenda Goh; Editing by William Mallard and Alex Richardson)

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