Vietnam sends senior official to China to build bridges after oil rig stand-off

Vietnam wants to ensure tensions don't flare up again after riots over oil drilling

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 August, 2014, 3:21pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 August, 2014, 12:34pm

A senior Vietnamese Communist Party official arrives in China today on a fence-mending mission as the two countries seek to repair ties badly strained by the deployment of a Chinese oil rig in the disputed South China Sea.

Le Hong Anh, who is fifth in Vietnam's Communist Party Politburo, would visit China today and tomorrow as a special envoy of party chief Nguyen Phu Trong and at the invitation of the Communist Party of China, officials from both countries said yesterday.

Relations between Beijing and Hanoi were hit hard in May when China deployed an oil rig to the Paracel Islands - known as the Xisha Islands in China and Hoang Sa in Vietnam - sparking deadly anti-China protests in Vietnam.

Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh said Anh would hold talks with Chinese leaders on ways to stop tensions flaring up again, the Vietnam News Agency reported.

Binh said Vietnam would give humanitarian support to Chinese workers affected by the riots, and the Vietnam-China Friendship Association would send a team to China to visit families of the victims.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Beijing acknowledged Hanoi's efforts to deal with the aftermath of the riots, but called on Vietnam to properly implement its pledges.

Anh's trip will be the highest-level exchange between the two countries since State Councillor Yang Jiechi went to Hanoi in June as both nations engaged in tough rhetoric.

Tensions have eased since China removed the oil rig last month.

Carl Thayer, a Vietnam watcher at the Australian Defence Force Academy, said Anh's trip was to reassure Beijing and set the stage for future visits.

"They [Vietnam] still grieve about the oil rig, but they have to pick up the pieces and show they are willing up to a point to be accommodating," Thayer said. "And China has to be wise enough to not push things too strongly."

Zhang Jie, a regional security analyst with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Beijing aimed to improve party-to-party relations with Vietnam to show it can maintain communication with Hanoi despite tensions.