Vietnam, Australia strengthen security ties amid South China Sea dispute

SYDNEY – Vietnam and Australia have called for “self-restraint” in the South China Sea and warned against the unilateral use of force, an obvious reference to China’s increasingly aggressive presence that has stirred concerns across the disputed region.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung met Australian counterpart Tony Abbott in Canberra, where they will sign a deal on issues including security and climate change.

Vietnam and other wary Southeast Asian countries have complained about China’s controversial policy of land reclamation on disputed isles in the South China Sea. Beijing in turn has said it is not seeking to overturn international order.

Dung told the Australian parliament there was an imperative need to draw up a code of conduct for the South China Sea.

China claims about 90% of the South China Sea, displaying its reach on official maps with a so-called nine-dash dotted line that stretches deep into the maritime heart of Southeast Asia.

Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims to parts of the potentially energy-rich waters that are crossed by key global shipping lanes.

Beijing is committed to working toward regional stability, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement and urged for countries outside the region to maintain a neutral position.

China balked at a recent remark by the Vietnamese head of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) pertaining to the disputed South China Sea, and rejecting Chinese claims based on the nine-dash line.

Meanwhile, Australia and China fostered a free trade agreement in November, China being Australia’s largest trading partner.

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