China’s top diplomat visits Vietnam ahead of likely Xi trip

Wang Yi is set to meet Vietnam’s president and party secretary.
By Mike Firn for RFA
2023.11.30
Bangkok, Thailand
China’s top diplomat visits Vietnam ahead of likely Xi trip China's President Xi Jinping (seated) speaks to Foreign Minister Wang Yi during the APEC-ASEAN dialogue, on the sidelines of the APEC summit, in Danang, Vietnam, Friday, Nov. 10, 2017.
Jorge Silva/Pool Photo via AP

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi arrived in Vietnam Friday, paving the way for a possible visit by President Xi Jinping this month.

Wang is co-chairing the 15th session of the Vietnam-China Bilateral Cooperation Steering Committee VNExpress reported, with Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister Tran Luu Quang.

Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the Chinese foreign minister will have talks with his Vietnamese counterpart Bui Thanh Son and greet Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong and President Vo Van Thuong. 

During the annual steering committee meeting the two sides will commit to improving economic, trade and investment cooperation, according to the Voice of Vietnam. They will also focus on transport infrastructure and customs clearance to improve supply chains, the state-approved website said.

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China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi (L) shaking hands with Vietnam's Deputy Prime Minister Tran Luu Quang in Hanoi on Dec. 1, 2023. (Vietnam News Agency / AFP)

Xi – who is also the Chinese Communist Party General Secretary – was originally expected to visit Hanoi in October or November for talks with his counterpart Trong, who was in Beijing last year. Instead, Xi traveled to San Francisco for November’s APEC summit and a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden. His Vietnam visit is now expected to take place from Dec. 14-16.

Since Trong’s 2022 China trip Vietnam has elevated its relations with the U.S. to a “comprehensive strategic partnership,” putting it on a par with China, along with India, Russia and South Korea. This week Vietnam also conferred its top partnership ranking on Japan during a visit to Tokyo by its president Vo Van Thuong.

Courting Vietnam

Improved relations with Vietnam are likely to help the U.S. and Japan diversify supply chains and reduce their reliance on a politically and economically turbulent China. That in turn seems to have prompted Beijing to seek even stronger ties with Hanoi.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) and Vietnam Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong raise a toast after witnessing a signing ceremony of a dozen bilateral agreements following their official talks at the VCP's Headquarters in Hanoi on November 5, 2015. (Reuters)

Carl Thayer, a Vietnam analyst and emeritus professor at the Australian Defense Force Academy in Canberra, said when Xi visits Hanoi he will likely want to discuss the same issues with Trong that U.S. President Joe Biden raised with the Vietnamese leader during their September meeting:

“[I]mproving the efficiency and stability of bilateral supply chains, creating better conditions for Chinese businesses to invest and operate in Vietnam, enhancing cooperation in e-commerce and the digital economy, increased science and technology joint research, education and training exchanges, … green development and climate change response, public health cooperation, protection of water resources along the Lancang-Mekong River, cross-border tourism and cultural exchanges, and coordination on international issues.”

China is Vietnam’s largest trading partner with bilateral trade rising 5.5% last year to US$175.5 billion, according to Vietnam’s Ministry of Industry and Trade.

China’s Commerce Minister Wang Wentao also visited Vietnam this week pledging to deepen trading ties and open the Chinese market to more agricultural imports.

Trouble at sea

Although their trade relationship is improving, Vietnam and China have clashed frequently over territorial claims in the South China Sea. Hoang Viet, an expert on the issue, told Radio Free Asia that Beijing is likely to tone down its rhetoric, in order to avoid souring top level relations.

“In anticipation of Xi Jinping’s visit to Vietnam, China may exercise maximum restraint to create a more moderate atmosphere,” he said.

Despite their differences in the South China Sea, China and Vietnam have been holding joint patrols between their navies and coast guards in the Gulf of Tonkin in November and December.

Beijing and Hanoi said the patrols aimed “to carry forward the traditional friendship and deepen mutual trust between the two countries, as well as further promote mutual understanding between the two militaries.”

Edited by Elaine Chan and Taejun Kang.

RFA Vietnamese contributed to this story.

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