Hanoi, Beijing agree on 'trustworthy ties'

But even as China leader ends Vietnam visit, Hanoi invites Japan for joint military drills

HANOI/BEIJING • Vietnam agreed to build a"truly trustworthy" relationship with China during a visit to Hanoi by Chinese President Xi Jinping, but at the same time invited Beijing's old rival Japan for joint military exercises and a visit to a sought-after port.

The diplomatic flurry highlights the fragility of China's testy ties with its communist neighbour and Vietnam's efforts to diversify its relations through new alliances with states locked in bitter disputes with Beijing over its maritime expansionism.

The countries' competing territorial claims mushroomed into a major dispute last year, which Mr Xi aimed to settle on a timely visit close to a scheduled shake-up of a Vietnamese Communist Party leadership increasingly being courted by the United States.

Cam Ranh is the jewel in the crown of Vietnam's military, with an air base once used by the US and Soviet forces and a deep-water bay home to its modern, Russian-built submarines. Visits by foreign ships are rare and usually reserved for maintenance.

Mr Xi was given the red carpet treatment during meetings since Thursday with the top leaders of Vietnam and he told its National Assembly their joint revolutionary friendship could dispel and survive any "disruptions".

"Our two parties, countries and peoples should be staunch in their faith, help each other and proceed hand in hand, not allowing anyone to disrupt our pace," he said.

Both sides agreed yesterday to maintain peace at sea and trust each other, but as Mr Xi prepared to leave, Japan's defence ministry announced Vietnam had invited it to take part in humanitarian exercises and to deploy a warship to its strategic Cam Ranh Bay once construction of a new dock was done.

Japan and China have their own territorial dispute in the East China Sea, complicating a relationship coloured by Japan's occupation of parts of China before and during World War II.

Cam Ranh is the jewel in the crown of Vietnam's military, with an air base once used by the US and Soviet forces and a deep-water bay home to its modern, Russian-built submarines. Visits by foreign ships are rare and usually reserved for maintenance.

Trust has become an issue for China, whose Foreign Minister Wang Yi yesterday told US counterpart John Kerry that a recent US warship patrol near its man-made islands in the Spratlys was of extreme concern.

A website run by China's official People's Daily newspaper displayed rare pictures yesterday of the reclamation work, taken by a worker on Mischief Reef, showing diggers and tractors dumping sand into the azure waters.

Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang told Mr Xi that relations had been hurt and made a rare admission about concerns within the Communist Party.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 07, 2015, with the headline 'Hanoi, Beijing agree on 'trustworthy ties''. Print Edition | Subscribe