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HANOI, Vietnam – China’s President Xi Jinping began a two-day visit to Vietnam on Tuesday, December 12, to upgrade ties between the Communist countries three months after US President Joe Biden traveled to Hanoi, as the major powers vie for influence in the Southeast Asian nation.
Making his first trip to Vietnam in six years, Xi was welcomed at Hanoi airport by Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, and people on the route to his hotel waved flags of both countries, pictures on state media showed.
Despite ties that have been very close on the economic front, the neighbors have been at odds over boundaries in the South China Sea and have a millennia-long history of conflict.
“Asia’s future is in the hands of no one but Asians,” Xi said in an opinion piece published in the newspaper of the Vietnamese Communist party ahead of his visit.
A “community with a shared future” between the two countries would have strategic significance, he added, while warning against rising “hegemonism” in the world, an apparent reference to the United States, though he did not name it.
Xi’s visit was delayed also because of lengthy talks over use of the phrase “shared future,” favored by Beijing to describe ties between the two sides, though initially resisted by Hanoi, officials and diplomats have said.
Months in the planning, the visit had briefly even been considered to be scheduled ahead of Biden’s trip, officials have said.
However, the upgrade in ties would just be symbolic, said Le Hong Hiep, a specialist in Vietnamese strategic and political issues at Singapore’s Iseas–Yusof Ishak Institute.
“Vietnam’s mistrust of China runs deep, and from the Vietnamese people’s viewpoint, there is little to no ‘shared destiny’ between the two countries, as long as China continues to claim most of the South China Sea,” he said.
‘Dozens’ of deals
Beyond taking ties to a level Beijing may see as being above those with the United States, upgraded status would come with the signing of “dozens of co-operation documents,” Vietnam’s state newspaper Tuoi Tre quoted China’s ambassador Xiong Bo as saying before Xi’s visit.
Deals are expected to include Chinese investments to upgrade rail links between the neighbors, which would include grants, though the volume and terms of possible loans are not clear.
Boosting transport links would allow Vietnam to export more to China, especially farm products, while Beijing wants to further integrate the country’s north with its southern supply chain networks.
Chinese firms have moved some operations to Vietnam quicker this year than before the COVID-19 pandemic, looking to be closer to Western clients there, lower risks from US-China trade tension and cut exposure to China’s weakened economy.
Stronger rail networks would speed import of components from China for assembly in Vietnam, effectively expanding China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
In his op-ed piece, Xi called for faster co-operation on building infrastructure.
China has pushed to include Vietnam in its Digital Silk Road, which may entail investments for new undersea optical fiber cables, the 5G network and other telecoms infrastructure.
Although the Hanoi metro is Vietnam’s only project to have received BRI loans, it has not been labelled as such in a country where anti-Chinese sentiment is still widespread enough that such moves could be viewed as getting too close to Beijing.
Xi urged wider co-operation in security, connectivity, green energy and critical minerals, in a reference to the rare earths, of which China is the world’s leading refiner while Vietnam has the second largest estimated reserves after its neighbor. – Rappler.com