Xi calls for more bilateral cooperation as he hosts Vietnamese president

South China Sea disputes take back seat as Tran Dai Quang arrives for first visit to Beijing

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 May, 2017, 11:46pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 May, 2017, 11:46pm

President Xi Jinping on Thursday called for China and Vietnam to boost bilateral cooperationas he received Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang, ­despite the two communist countries being at odds over territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Quang, who ranks second in Vietnam after party General ­Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, is on his first visit to China since ­taking office in April 2016.

He will attend a summit for the “Belt and Road Initiative” on ­Sunday and Monday in Beijing.

Xi said during the meeting yesterday that China placed high ­emphasis on Quang’s visit and that the two countries’ relations had maintained a positive momentum over the last six months.

Leaders of communist neighbours China and Vietnam won’t let maritime dispute sour relations

Quang praised China’s economic reforms, and called for the two parties and countries to cooperate more on trade, agriculture, tourism, security, infrastructure and cultural exchanges.

The two leaders witnessed the signing of five agreements, including ones on exchanges between the two countries’ foreign ministries and party schools, and additional funding for a light-rail transit project in Hanoi.

Vietnam has been seen as a ­vocal opponent of Beijing’s military build-up in the South China Sea, especially since Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte promised to put aside territorial disputes and rebuild ties with China.

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Hanoi in March called for Beijing to stop running cruise ships to the Paracels, which are known as the Hoang Sa Islands in Vietnam and the Xisha in China.

Vietnam has also discreetly fortified several of its islands with new mobile missile launchers ­capable of striking China’s runways and military installations around the region.

However, Quang’s visit to ­Beijing has so far been marked by efforts on both sides to play down continuing tensions over the South China Sea disputes, and focus instead on pursuing economic cooperation.

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In an echo of China’s development history, the one-party Vietnamese state has in recent years continued with economic reforms but steered clear of major political changes.

Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said after the meeting that the two sides had discussed the South China Sea disputes but that the talks had a “positive tone”.

“There was no finger pointing between the two sides. We are highly consistent [in our separate positions on the disputes],” Liu said.

He said China and Vietnam would continue to negotiate over the disputes and would strengthen their cooperation in less sensitive areas, such as joint energy exploration in the Gulf of Tonkin.