Top China official visits Hanoi as Vietnam, US get cosy

China's Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli (left) shakes hands with Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung before their meeting at the Government Office in Hanoi on July 16, 2015.
China's Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli (left) shakes hands with Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung before their meeting at the Government Office in Hanoi on July 16, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

HANOI (REUTERS) - Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli held talks with top Vietnamese leaders during a visit on Thursday that comes hot on the heels of a landmark United States trip by Vietnam's communist party chief.

The two-day visit by Zhang, a member of the elite Politburo Standing Committee, was announced only on Monday and comes as neighbours that share US$60 billion of annual trade seek to shore-up ties strained last year by a heated dispute over maritime sovereignty.

Zhang met Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, and was due to make courtesy calls on the country's president and its communist party chief on Friday.

"Vietnam and China will discuss detailed measures to boost practical cooperation in economic, trade and investment areas during the visit," Vietnam's Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh told a regular news briefing in Hanoi on Thursday.

The visit quickly follows almost a week of meetings in the United States by a political and business delegation from Vietnam, led by Communist Party chief, Nguyen Phu Trong, which received large-scale coverage in Vietnam's state media, as the two countries mark 20 years since normalising ties.

Trong met President Barack Obama last week at the Oval Office, the latest amid a flurry of diplomacy by Washington that began during last year's breakdown in Sino-Vietnamese ties.

The United States has intensified its efforts to engage a former war enemy that has long shared close but testy ties with China, thrusting Vietnam into what experts see as a broader tug-of-war between Beijing and Washington for regional influence.

China's state-run Xinhua news agency released a commentary on Thursday describing the visit as "the latest stroke of top-level diplomacy".

"It is in the best interest of the two nations, especially Vietnam, to enhance mutual political trust and understanding instead of aggravating differences," it added.