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China, Vietnam Agree on Hotline to Resolve Maritime Disputes

Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping toast during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, June 19, 2013.
China and Vietnam have agreed to set up an emergency hotline to help quickly resolve territorial disputes that have occasionally strained relations between the two neighbors.

The official China Daily says Beijing and Hanoi agricultural authorities that are responsible for the fishing industry signed the deal as part of efforts to prevent future disputes from derailing ties.

An official with China's Ministry of Agriculture told the paper that each side has agreed to use the hotline to inform each other of any detainment involving fishermen or boats within 48 hours.

Chinese and Vietnamese fishing boats and maritime vessels periodically clash in the resource-rich and strategic South China Sea, where the countries have overlapping territorial claims.

The agreement followed a Wednesday meeting in Beijing between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang. The China Daily says Beijing "placed a great emphasis" on the meeting, the first since Xi recently took over China's top leadership post.

China claims nearly the entire 3.5 million-square-kilometer South China Sea and its island groupings. Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei also claim parts of the sea. They often accuse Beijing of increasing aggressiveness in defending its claims.

Last month, Vietnam accused China of risking the lives of Vietnamese sailors after a Chinese navy vessel rammed a fishing boat in an area within what Vietnam considers its exclusive economic zone. China said the boat was fishing illegally and subject to "normal law enforcement."

Beijing and Hanoi have also disagreed over oil and gas exploration in disputed areas of the South China Sea.

Beijing has rejected attempts to resolve the maritime disputes using multilateral mechanisms, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. It instead prefers to deal individually with each of its weaker rival claimants.