Sino-Vietnamese conflicts can be contained till solution found

Source:Global Times Published: 2015-4-13 23:13:01

Nguyen Phu Trong, general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV), has received considerable attention during his latest visit to China from April 7 to 10. His high-profile delegation, including about one third of Vietnam's politburo was received by Chinese top leadership, who saw this as a goodwill trip both to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations, and to mend the bilateral ties impaired by last year's face-off over territorial and maritime interests.

The anti-China protests in 2014 triggered by China's deployment of an oil rig in the South China Sea reduced the Sino-Vietnamese relationship to its lowest ebb save for the border war of 1979. In this case, leaders of both nations are seeking remedies to put bilateral relations back on track. Trong's visit could be regarded as the climax of a few diplomatic interactions in the past few months.

Trong's visit has offered a good opportunity for both nations to recalibrate their policies to each other, which were deflected by a series of conflicts last year. The joint communiqué released on Wednesday has reaffirmed the historical, ideological and pragmatic foundations of bilateral relations, in a bid to set the keynote for the next steps of rapprochement.

More importantly, it has underlined the duties of both sides in dealing with essential territorial issues.

Although they both seek to restore bilateral ties, China and Vietnam have different considerations. Beijing takes 2015 as an important year for it to carry forward a series of programs initiated by the leadership, including the "One Belt and One Road" initiative, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and the commemorative events for the 70th anniversary of the victory in WWII. China doesn't want territorial and maritime antagonism with Vietnam standing in the way of implementing these programs. Vietnam should be roped into this grand vision.

From the angle of Hanoi, the ruling communist party is unwilling and unable to go to extremes and launch head-on challenge against China over territorial claims. Exercising restraints and giving a timely handshake will ease down the tensions in the South China Sea so that it won't risk a spillover effect affecting economic and political interests. Vietnam desires reconciliation more than China does.

Although led by communist parties, China and Vietnam lack political mutual trust. Both nations have historical animosities, but the major crux of the current distrust rests on the quandary caused by sovereignty-related issues. Well aware of the consequences of the spread of risk, Beijing and Hanoi have to try their best to keep it within a manageable scope until they can find a more constructive solution to the dilemma.

Another highlight of Trong's visit is a five-year cooperation plan between two communist parties. This is the first program of such since both sides fell foul of each other in the 1970s. Although details are pending, this plan shows the need of the CPV to draw lessons from China to reinforce its dominance in its own state.

During Trong's visit, Vietnam received a visit by two US warships to observe the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and the US. Meanwhile, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev also paid Hanoi a visit, with a consensus reached to promote their bilateral ties through a free trade zone between Vietnam and the Eurasian Economic Union.

Vietnam is honing its skills of exercising balanced diplomacy. It should be noted that, although small states can survive and prosper by maintaining balance among major powers, like Singapore, they always need a reliable patron to be their last bastion of defense.

Hanoi is not taking advantage of the rivalry between China and the US to reap profits, but balancing one side's influence against the other, which means it is using China to counter US attempts at color revolution in Vietnam, and using the US to challenge China's territorial claims.

In this case, Hanoi is playing "double-dealer" without anyone who has its back, which might eventually put itself in danger.

The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Liu Zhun based on an interview with Zhou Fangyin, a professor at the Guangdong Research Institute for International Strategies.

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