Beijing improves ties with Hanoi

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 September, 2011, 12:00am


A chill that had befallen Sino-Vietnamese ties is thawing, as the two countries have shifted focus from territorial disputes to other, non-sensitive areas of co-operation, state media in Beijing and Hanoi report.

Analysts predict smooth relations if both sides focus on bilateral trade, similar ideologies and potential joint development of oil and natural gas in the disputed South China Sea.

China's top diplomat, State Councillor Dai Bingguo, and Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan jointly chaired the fifth annual Vietnam-China Steering Committee for Bilateral Co-operation on Wednesday in Hanoi, according to a statement released by the two countries. It said both sides had agreed to advance all-round exchanges and co-operation that would be mutually beneficial.

Vietnam's new top leader, Nguyen Phu Trong, also met Dai, who reportedly conveyed a message from President Hu Jintao .

The statement said Beijing and Hanoi had agreed to resolve sovereignty claims in the South China Sea through peaceful, friendly consultations. They had agreed to speed up the talks and to reach a mutually agreeable solution, and pledged to sign a pact as soon as possible.

China and Vietnam claim the Paracels and the Spratly Islands. The islands straddle the region's most important shipping lanes, linking East Asia with the Middle East and Europe, and the seabed potentially holds rich oil and gas reserves.

Dr Zhang Mingliang of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies at Guangzhou's Jinan University, said the statement indicated both sides were striving to ease tensions fuelled by anti-Chinese rallies in Hanoi in recent months and by a maritime row in May between Chinese warships and a Vietnamese oil exploration ship in the South China Sea.

'The joint statement tells us that decisions [to enhance Sino-Vietnamese ties] made by the two countries' top leaders will not be affected by the civilian anti-Chinese protests or even military conflicts in the disputed waters,' Zhang said.

Professor Ju Hailong, of the same institute, said Vietnam had been a beneficiary in its ties with China since the last century. Ju cited six key factors affecting the relationship: bilateral trade; a potential joint exploration of oil and natural gas, including in disputed waters; similar political ideologies; their sovereignty claims over the South China Sea; Vietnam's nationalism, which has provoked anti-Chinese protests; and Vietnamese interest groups, which are influenced by overseas populism.

'The first three are positive elements that will help in the healthy development of Sino-Vietnamese ties, while the other three are negative factors,' Ju said. Vietnam had tried since the 1970s to work with the west to explore and exploit oil and natural gas in the waters, he said, but Hanoi benefited very little while the western countries took most of the earnings.