Top Chinese commander’s goodwill gesture to Vietnam

CMC vice-chairman’s appeal for common ground comes as both countries prepare for landmark meetings this year

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 September, 2017, 8:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 September, 2017, 9:24am

Tensions between Hanoi and Beijing could be easing with a top Chinese military commander calling on China and Vietnam to step up cooperation along their land border.

At the site of a brief border war nearly four decades ago, Central Military Commission vice-chairman Fan Changlong told Vietnamese Defence Minister Ngo Xuan Lich that both sides should “look at the broader picture, strengthen mutual trust ... and constantly deepen practical communication”.

Fan issued the call at a land border defence meeting held on the weekend in the neighbouring areas of Yunnan province in China and Lai Chau province in Vietnam, according to a Chinese defence ministry statement.

Ties between two countries have been strained by disputes over the South China Sea, particularly after Hanoi began drilling for oil in the contested waters in June.

Hanoi’s move prompted Fan to cut short his trip to Vietnam at the time and cancel a border defence meeting with Vietnamese officials.

The tensions persisted and about two months later a meeting between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Vietnamese counterpart Pham Binh Minh on the sidelines of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit was cancelled.

Vietnam has been among the vocal opponents of China’s land reclamation in the South China Sea and irked Beijing when it sought to have those objections included in the Asean summit communique.

China has tried to defuse some of that opposition in recent weeks by increasing its engagement with the region.

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During a trip to the Chinese capital by Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last week, Beijing called on the city state to help advance ties between China and Asean.

Liu Yunshan, the fifth-ranked member of the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee, was also mending fences last week, travelling to Hanoi to meet political heavyweights, including Vietnamese Communist Party general secretary Nguyen Phu Trong and Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, according to Xinhua.

In his meeting with Nguyen Phu Trong, Liu said the communist parties of China and Vietnam shared a destiny and both sides should work side by side to support each other, Xinhua reported.

Xu Liping, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Fan’s attendance at the border meeting could be a goodwill gesture from Beijing.

“Usually the defence minister attends the border meeting on the Chinese side,” Xu said. “But Fan nevertheless decided to chair it even after it was cancelled a few months ago. This means China still values its relations with Vietnam.”

China, Vietnam vow to boost military ties amid strained relations over South China Sea

Xu said Liu’s trip last week reflected the broader state of ties between the countries, especially their ruling communist parties.

“The recent meetings mean that ... both sides have been trying to build trust,” he said.

The meetings come as China prepares for a five-yearly party congress next month and Vietnam gets ready to host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

“Neither side would like to see these important political events disturbed,” Xu said. “That’s why both sides are now trying to ensure stability in bilateral relations.”