Hanoi: China has freed nine Vietnamese fishermen held for the past one month after they were caught in disputed South China Sea waters, Vietnam`s Minister of Defence Phung Quang Thanh said on Tuesday.
Thanh said the release came "unconditionally" and was an expression of China`s goodwill.
"We appreciated it," Thanh told reporters on the sidelines of inaugural talks by regional defence ministers, where the South China Sea was a key issue.
Vietnam last week called for release of the fishing boat and its crew that were captured while fishing in the Paracels, a South China Sea archipelago occupied by China but claimed by Vietnam.
Vietnam and China are engaged in a long-running dispute over control of the Paracels and a more southerly archipelago, the Spratlys.
Since last year, Vietnam has reported numerous cases of fishing boats and equipment being seized by China.
Taiwan also claims the Paracels and has a claim to the Spratlys, as do ASEAN members the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.
Territorial disputes in Asia-Pacific waters pose a threat to regional stability, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates warned today at the regional talks, but his Chinese counterpart insisted Beijing`s growing military might is purely defensive.