China-Vietnam relations facing greater chance of derailment

By Ke Xiaozhai Source:Global Times Published: 2014-1-23 22:33:02

Since January 18, some cities in Vietnam have hosted a series of picture exhibitions, memorial services, and international symposiums to mark the 40th anniversary of the naval battle between China and South Vietnam in 1974. These events were held to challenge the established sovereignty of Xisha Islands, also called "Hoang Sa Islands" in Vietnam. It has also been reported that Vietnam will commemorate the 35th anniversary of the Sino-Vietnamese war in 1979. There is a growing chance that Beijing-Hanoi relations will derail.

It is worth noting that nationalist sentiment across Vietnam is rampant and that the Sino-Vietnamese relationship is facing daunting challenges. In recent years Beijing and Hanoi have been involved in a quagmire of territorial disputes regarding the South China Sea, which, in the eyes of Vietnamese authorities and public, is pertinent to the rise or fall of their nation.

Hanoi plans to increase its marine economic output to 53 to 55 percent of their aggregate GDP, so marching to the South China Sea has become an inevitable strategic choice for the ambitious country. Many Vietnamese are worried that China will become an obstacle.

The pillar of China-Vietnam relations is making a dent in stability and robustness, with Hanoi facing pressure in its diplomatic policy toward Beijing. Vietnam has gradually shaped its own development road and therefore does not need to learn much from China.

Deepening ties with the West and joining the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have also greatly improved its security environment and thus reduced the necessity to cooperate with China to counter external threats.

It is now difficult to stay optimistic about the state of Sino-Vietnamese ties as some Vietnamese leaders have made it explicitly clear that they will support the commemorative activities of the 35th anniversary of the Sino-Vietnamese war.

Vietnam is likely to turn its bid to "reclaim" the Xisha Islands into a bitterly contentious international issue. Therefore, we should make full preparations for any contingencies on the islands by getting ready for diplomatic, opinion and legal war as well as unexpected conflicts on the South China Sea.

But Beijing and Hanoi still possess plenty of common ground as a cushion for these vehement contradictions. Developing economy and improving people's livelihood remain the top priority for both countries. Vietnam should guide public opinion properly to avoid provoking further nationalism and exacerbating strained relations with China.

The author is a research fellow with Guangxi Southeast Asian Studies Center.

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