Viet­nam of­fi­cials visit China to mend ties af­ter rig row


Viet­nam sent a high-rank­ing del­e­ga­tion of Com­mu­nist Party of­fi­cials and cabi­net min­is­ters to China on Tues­day as the coun­tries seek to mend re­la­tions strained by the gi­ant north­ern neigh­bor’s de­ploy­ment of an oil rig last year in dis­puted wa­ters.

The four-day trip was led by Com­mu­nist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong, For­eign Min­is­ter Pham Binh Minh, De­fense Min­is­ter Phung Quang Thanh and Min­is­ter for Public Se­cu­rity Tran Dai Quang, the party said in a brief state­ment on its web­site.

The Com­mu­nist Party’s Nhan Dan news­pa­per said in a front page ed­i­to­rial that Trong’s visit “cre­ates fa­vor­able con­di­tions” to re­solve prob­lems be­tween the coun­tries, although it did not men­tion the ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes in the South China Sea.

Re­la­tions be­tween the com­mu­nist neigh­bors plunged to its low­est point in years af­ter China parked a gi­ant oil right last May near the Para­cel Is­lands, which are also claimed by Viet­nam.

The in­ci­dent trig­gered a near break­down in ties and sparked the risk of a naval stand­off as well as wide­spread an­tiChina demon­stra­tions in Viet­nam that turned vi­o­lent and left at least four Chi­nese na­tion­als dead.

Af­ter two months of drilling, China with­drew the bil­lion-U.S.-dollar rig last July but made clear it was do­ing so be­cause it had com­pleted its work, not be­cause of the crit­i­cism of its ac­tions. China’s for­eign min­istry also cited the ty­phoon sea­son as a rea­son for mov­ing the rig.

The rig’s de­ploy­ment was widely seen as part of a strat­egy by China to grad­u­ally stake out its claims in the South China Sea, all or part of which are also claimed by Viet­nam, the Philip­pines, Tai­wan, Malaysia and Brunei.

The spat ex­posed Viet­nam’s lack of op­tions when deal­ing with its gi­ant neigh­bor. Hanoi’s work­ings are shrouded in se­crecy, but it has long been as­sumed that the Com­mu­nist Party is split be­tween a fac­tion that fa­vors a tough line against Bei­jing — and con­se­quen­tially stronger ties with the United States and its al­lies — and those who be­lieve a quiet com­pro­mise can be reached with their ide­o­log­i­cal al­lies in China.

Trong is also ex­pected to visit the United States as Viet­nam seeks closer ties with other coun­tries in the face of China’s grow­ing ter­ri­to­rial as­sertive­ness. U.S. Am­bas­sador to Viet­nam Ted Osius has said Trong will visit Wash­ing­ton, D.C., but no of­fi­cial date has been given.

Viet­nam has strongly protested China’s build­ing up of reefs and atolls in the South China Sea, say­ing that it vi­o­lates Viet­nam’s sovereignty and threat­ens re­gional peace and in­ter­na­tional mar­itime nav­i­ga­tion.

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