Vietnam official visits China to ease tensions over South China Sea
HANOI, Vietnam — Vietnam’s Communist Party chief will be in China starting Thursday (Jan. 12) for a four-day official visit that is seen to ease the tension between the two countries over the conflicting claims in the South China Sea and chart the two’s foreign policy direction.
Nguyễn Phú Trọng, secretary general of Vietnam’s Communist Party, is scheduled to go on an official trip to Beijing on January 12 to 15 at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping, according to senior foreign ministry officials in interviews with local reporters last week.
It will be his first visit to Beijing since his reelection in 2016, showing the two countries’ friendly relations despite the long-standing tensions in the disputed South China Sea.
Vietnam and China’s relations have turned warm and cold at different times in the past, with the Vietnamese government taking an active position against China’s nine-dash-line claim, rallying closely behind the Philippines during its legal battle against China’s “historic rights” over almost the entire South China Sea.
The 2014 standoff between Chinese and Vietnamese forces over China’s placement of an oil rig in the waters 120 miles from Vietham’s coast had strained the once brotherly ties of the two and sparked outrage among the Vietnamese nationals.
In an email interview, Dr. Tran Cong Truc, former head of Vietnam’s National Border Committee and a South China Sea expert in Vietnam, noted that the Vietnamese leader’s visit to China was preceded by his meeting with his counterpart in Laos on November 25, 2016.
“It may be seen how significant the Vietnamese leaders consider the importance of the relationship between these two countries … in contemporary political context, especially as the East Sea (South China Sea) dispute is getting worse and might potentially cause instability, conflict and war,” Dr. Tran said.
Dr. Tran said Vietnam, from the past to the present, has taken a pragmatic approach in its foreign policy with China, “criticizing China’s aggressive activities without rousing national hatred” while at the same time “respecting the friendly relations between the two peoples.”
“Vietnam has been exploring all ways to surmount difficulties to maintain and develop friendly relations with China in a manner beneficial to its national building and protection and regional and international peace, security and cooperation for development,” Dr. Tran said.
While the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands had ruled in favor of the Philippines and nullified China’s nine-dash-line and reclamation activities, the Philippines’ recent pivot to China had made Vietnam a loner in confronting China’s occupation of reefs and island in the disputed waters.
“If China continues to violate legitimate rights and interests of Vietnam and other countries and trample on international law, especially the 1982 UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea), Vietnam will be forced to employ more forceful measures,” Dr. Tran said.
Reports said Vietnam has begun its dredging work on a disputed reef called Ladd Reef on the southwestern fringe in the South China Sea last month, according to the image provided by U.S.-based satellite firm Planet Labs.
“We should recognize and differentiate the nature of the building activities on Truong Sa islands carried out by China and Vietnam in recent years. Firstly, it should be highlighted that Truong Sa belongs to Vietnam, while China has illegally occupied the features, turning undisputed waters into disputed areas,” Dr. Tran said to Vietnam’s defense.
Tran said that since the 17th century, the Vietnamese have established and exercised sovereignty over the islands. He said Vietnam’s military outposts and civilian settlements, which could be found on the islands, have thus been normal sights in the area and not a violation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, which Vietnam signed. SFM