China’s defense minister has urged his country’s military to deepen ties with Vietnam amid the ongoing territorial dispute in the South China Sea. Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan’s comments came Monday during a visit to Hanoi, Reuters reported.

During his meeting with Vietnam Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong, Chang reportedly said that both sides should work toward maintaining close ties with their exchanges, communication and friendship.

Chinese and Vietnamese militaries should "increase high level exchanges and strategic communication, increase friendly feelings, deepen border defense exchanges and practical cooperation on U.N. peacekeeping, military academic research and the defense industry,” Chang said, in a statement carried late Monday by China's Defense Ministry, Reuters reported.

Although China made no direct mention about the tensions over the South China Sea, the ministry reportedly said that the commander of China's South China Sea fleet, Shen Jinlong, attended the meeting.

China and Vietnam’s relationship has been strained since Beijing parked an oil rig in waters off the Vietnamese coast in 2014. The incident sparked anti-China riots in Vietnam that left five people dead.  Hundreds of factories owned by Chinese and other foreign companies were looted and burned during the riots.

In January, Vietnam expressed concerns over China's moving of an oil rig in the disputed South China Sea that could potentially result in a repetition of the 2014 standoff. The same month, Vietnam accused China of violating its sovereignty by landing a plane on the disputed Spratly Islands.

The South China Sea region has been long disputed, with Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam laying claim to various areas. Beijing claims most of the South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year.