China’s President Xi Jinping called Tuesday for a “new stage” in relations with Vietnam as he began his first visit in six years, seeking to counter the United States’ growing influence with the communist nation.
Xi will meet the leader of Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party, Nguyen Phu Trong, later on Tuesday, after Hanoi upgraded diplomatic ties with Washington when US President Joe Biden visited in September.
Biden’s visit was part of US efforts around the world to contain China’s rising economic power — and to secure supplies of crucial materials needed for high-tech manufacturing.
Speaking after his arrival at Hanoi’s airport, Xi said he would talk with Vietnamese leaders on “the overall, strategic, and directional issues of China-Vietnam relations, as well as international and regional issues of common concern, in order to push bilateral relations into a new stage”, according to Chinese state media.
Vietnam has long pursued a “bamboo diplomacy” approach, striving to stay on good terms with both China and the United States.
It shares US concerns about Beijing’s increasing assertiveness in the contested South China Sea, but it also has close economic ties with China.
Vietnam and China, both ruled by communist parties, already share a “comprehensive strategic partnership”, Vietnam’s highest diplomatic status.
Hanoi and Washington upgraded their relationship to the same level in September.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that the visit would involve discussions on “bringing China-Vietnam relations to a higher position”.
That could see Xi push for Vietnam to join his “Community of Common Destiny”, a loosely defined phrase that refers to a vision of future cooperation on economic, security and political issues.
In an article published Tuesday in Vietnam’s Nhan Dan newspaper, Xi said that “Asia’s future is in the hands of no one but Asians”.
Wang said the agenda for Xi’s trip includes “politics, security, practical cooperation, the formation of public opinion, multilateral issues and maritime issues”.
On Tuesday, Chinese and Vietnamese flags lined the route from the airport into central Hanoi, and dozens of well-wishers gathered outside the hotel where Xi is expected to stay.
On Wednesday, Xi will hold talks with Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh and President Vo Van Thuong, and lay a wreath at the mausoleum of revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh.
The trip comes with tensions running high between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea, after a spate of incidents involving the countries’ vessels at flashpoint reefs.
The Philippines said it had summoned China’s envoy on Monday and flagged the possibility of expelling him.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea and has ignored an international tribunal ruling that its assertions have no legal basis.
It deploys boats to patrol the busy waterway and has built artificial islands that it has militarised to reinforce its claims.
Vietnam, along with Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, also have overlapping claims in the South China Sea.
During Biden’s visit, Vietnam and the United States jointly warned against the “threat or use of force” in the contested waterway.
Vietnam was one of several ASEAN members upset by a new official Chinese map published in September, showing sovereignty over almost the entire resource-rich waterway.
Analysts say that, like Biden in September, Xi may seek closer cooperation on rare earth minerals used in the manufacture of high-tech devices such as smartphones and electric car batteries.
Vietnamese state-controlled media reported last month that China Rare Earth Group Co. was looking for opportunities to work with Vietnam’s mining giant Vinacomin.
The United States and Vietnam in September agreed to cooperate to help Hanoi quantify and develop its rare earth resources.
Their new partnership also included an agreement on semiconductors, as fears about US reliance on China for strategic resources grow.
US chip giant Nvidia wants to set up a base in Vietnam to develop its semiconductor industry, its CEO was quoted as saying by the Vietnamese government.