China and Vietnam have agreed to set up a hotline between their navies amid escalating maritime tensions over the disputed South China Sea islands.

The Defence Ministries of China and Vietnam have agreed to establish a naval hotline, Vietnam’s Deputy Defence Minister Nguyen Chi Vinh was on Friday quoted as saying by the state-run China Daily.

China currently has hotline facilities with India, the U.S., South Korea and Japan. The hotline between India and China is established between the Prime Ministers of the two sides.

Mr. Nguyen dispelled rhetoric of Vietnam aligning with other nations to counter China, saying such a strategy does not exist. He was apparently referring to reports that Vietnam is getting closer to U.S., Japan and India in order to bring about balance in its ties with China.

Mr. Nguyen said despite the current controversies, a peaceful and secure maritime environment in the South China Sea should be nurtured by the military of China and Vietnam.

“Without a peaceful environment in the disputed waters, which is the basis for bilateral discussions, it would be a disaster for the two nations as well as for the region and the world,” said Mr. Nguyen, who was in Beijing for the seventh China-Vietnam consultation on defence and security.

The move came at time when the two countries experienced tensions over the disputed islands in South China Sea over which China has already started exercising its control with heavy deployment of its maritime vessels.

Recently Vietnam has complained that one of its boats was driven away by Chinese naval vessels, which Beijing denied.

Vietnam along with Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have serious disputes with China over South China Sea.

Analysts said the move signals a stronger will for communication and cooperation between the two neighbours, whose ties have been strained by maritime disputes.

Chinese experts welcomed the hotline, but said Beijing still needs to closely watch what measures Hanoi will take to guarantee peace and stability in the South China Sea.

Li Guoqiang, deputy director of the Centre for Chinese Borderland History and Geography at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said any improper actions by Vietnam military in related waters would greatly damage bilateral ties.

In a meeting with Mr. Nguyen on Wednesday, Qi Jianguo, deputy chief of the general staff of the People’s Liberation Army, urged Vietnam to evaluate bilateral ties from a strategic and overall perspective, and meet China halfway.

“Amid rapid changes in international and regional situation, it is significant that the two countries hold talks on defence and security issues, seek effective control of the current disputes and solutions to related issues,” Mr. Qi said.

Mr. Nguyen said the defence talks, an annual activity, reflected the urgency of bilateral military communication, confronted by “very complicated and very intense” maritime problems. “Cooperation is still the mainstream. On the basis of cooperation, the two governments can face divergences and disputes together,” he added.

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