Wang Yi extends China’s diplomatic hand to Vietnam, strengthening bilateral ties

Nguyen Phu Trong (left) and Wang Yi (right).

1st December 2023 – (Hanoi) Wang Yi, a member of the Communist Party of China’s Political Bureau and Foreign Minister, met with the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Central Committee, Nguyen Phu Trong, in Hanoi on Friday.

Wang highlighted that shared ideals and a common destiny underscore the unique nature of China-Vietnam relations. He appreciated Vietnam’s strategic choice to prioritise its relationship with China in its foreign policy, a sentiment mirrored by China regarding its diplomatic ties with Vietnam.

Building on a comprehensive strategic partnership that has spanned 15 years, both countries have agreed to elevate their bilateral relations’ positioning. According to Wang, such a move aligns with the mutual aspirations and interests of both nations and contributes to regional and global peace and development, heralding a promising future for bilateral ties.

In addition to meeting with Nguyen, Wang co-chaired the 15th Meeting of the China-Vietnam Steering Committee for Bilateral Cooperation alongside Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Tran Luu Quang. The Voice of Vietnam reports that the two sides pledged to enhance the efficiency of economic, trade, and investment cooperation and to promote traffic connections, especially in railway and road sectors, and border gate infrastructure. They also agreed to improve customs clearance efficiency to ensure smooth trade, and maintain production and supply chains.

Gu Xiaosong, dean of the ASEAN Research Institute at the Hainan Tropical Ocean University, commented to the Global Times that China and Vietnam, both socialist countries led by Communist parties, have maintained close political, economic, and cultural exchanges.

Since Nguyen’s visit to China in October 2022, the first by a foreign leader after the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, there have been frequent meetings at various levels between the two countries.

The restoration of these mature reciprocal visit mechanisms disrupted during the pandemic has been observed by Pan Jin’e, a research fellow with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. She noted the progress made following the principle agreements between the two countries last year, which has led to concrete cooperation programs.

Despite narratives of discord, observers highlight the potential for bilateral trade. China is Vietnam’s largest trading partner, with bilateral trade reaching $234.9 billion in 2022. Gu predicts potential for cooperation in infrastructure, with China’s technological and financial advantages complementing Vietnam’s need for improved railway connectivity.

Despite some Western narratives suggesting Vietnam’s shift away from China due to its upgraded relations with Washington and Tokyo, experts call this an exaggeration and a strategy to entice Vietnam into containing China. Vietnam’s efforts to maintain diverse and autonomous diplomacy properly handle ties with major powers and neighbouring countries, especially considering the complexities and uncertainties in geopolitics and globalisation.

However, the South China Sea dispute remains a point of contention between China and Vietnam. Experts agree that while the territorial dispute may take a long time to resolve, both countries have been successful in limiting the scale of disputes and preventing them from influencing the broader picture of bilateral relations.

Analysts have described these territorial disputes as an “undercurrent,” yet one that has not posed a significant challenge to the South China Sea situation or bilateral relations. The pattern of inter-party relations guiding the development of bilateral relations, including managing differences and promoting cooperation, is of high importance, according to the expert.