China and Vietnam should properly handle sea disputes and convert challenges into cooperation opportunities, Premier Li Keqiang told his Vietnamese counterpart on Monday.
Li made the remarks in Nanning, the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, on Monday, a day before the opening of the 10th ASEAN-China Expo.
China is willing to work with ASEAN to build an "upgraded version" of the China-ASEAN free trade area, he said.
Leaders attending the expo will include Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Laos' Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Myanmar President Thein Sein, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.
China and ASEAN should "maintain the right direction of East Asia cooperation" against the backdrop of a slow recovery of the world economy and of new challenges facing emerging market countries, Li said when meeting his counterparts on Monday.
In recent years, the Philippines and Vietnam have tried to put the South China Sea issue onto the agenda of a series of ASEAN meetings to attract global attention on their claims over some islets.
China and Vietnam are both developing economies and "their common interests far outnumber the divergence between them", Li told Nguyen Tan Dung.
"The two sides should boost dialogue and communication, properly manage and control disputes, seek to convert challenges on maritime issues into opportunities for cooperation, and create favourable circumstances for bilateral cooperation on major projects," Li said.