The government of Vietnam is sending a senior politburo member to China to help repair relations that were strained over Beijing’s deployment of an oil rig in waters of the South China Sea claimed by Hanoi.
The move, on May 1, started a serious dispute between the two countries, sparking violent and often deadly demonstrations in Vietnam and confrontations at sea between Vietnamese boats trying to approach the rig and Chinese coast guard vessels sent to protect it.
Two-and-a-half months later, China withdrew the $1 billion rig, the Haiyang Shiyou 981, saying it had completed its work and should be moved out of the expected path of approaching Typhoon Rammasun. A Vietnamese military leader, Maj. Gen. Le Ma Luong, scoffed that China in fact was backing down in the face of Hanoi’s opposition.
For a time, there was speculation that Vietnam was reconsidering its relationship with Beijing, a fellow communist-ruled country but one with which Hanoi has long had strained ties. There even was speculation that Vietnam was leaning toward closer relations with the United States.
Whatever may have been brewing among Vietnam’s leadership, all appears to be forgiven. On Aug. 25 Hanoi announced that it was sending Le Hong Anh, the fifth-ranking member of Vietnam’s Communist Party politburo, to China to help restore friendly relations.
The announcement said Hanoi’s protest of the oil rig’s presence wouldn’t be repeated. It also expressed regret for the sometimes deadly anti-Chinese demonstrations that occurred during the dispute and promised to ensure the safety of Chinese companies and workers in Vietnam.
Further, it said Le would spend his two-day visit to China to “promote the healthy, stable and long-term development of relations between the two parties and states.”
Le’s visit would be the second contact between the two countries for the purpose of repairing bilateral relations. In June, Beijing sent Yang Jiechi, a senior foreign policy expert on China’s State Council, to Hanoi.
Despite new contact between the countries’ leadership, many Vietnamese harbor resentment against China and are skeptical that the two countries can achieve normal relations.
Nguyen Trong Vinh, a former Vietnamese ambassador to China who takes a hard line toward Beijing, embraced this view in an interview with The Associated Press.
“There will be nothing,” he said. “China will never compromise. Their removal of the oil rig was only temporary. They will never abandon their wicked ambitions of taking a monopoly over the East Sea,” (the Vietnamese name for the South China Sea).
Skepticism aside, though, there is a huge incentive for Vietnam to maintain friendly relations with China: The two countries share $50 billion a year in trade.
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com