What to expect from Xi Jinping's upcoming visit to Vietnam
Following meetings U.S, EU leaders, China's Xi turns to socialist neighbor Vietnam
Following a visit to the U.S. in November and a meeting with EU leaders in Beijing on Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping will be making an official visit to Vietnam from December 12 to 13. This will be the president's third visit to the neighboring country, following trips in 2015 and 2017. In November 2017, Xi made his first overseas trip after the 19th Communist Party of China (CPC) National Congress, visiting Vietnam and Laos, two socialist neighbors of China.
Chinese President Xi Jinping talks with General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) Central Committee Nguyen Phu Trong at the former residence of late Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi, Vietnam, Nov. 13, 2017. (Photo by Xinhua)
Today's piece is a quick summary of some aspects of Xi Jinping's visit to Vietnam that might be of interest to overseas China watchers.
Your Ginger River's two friends, Huang Shuo and Jiang Shengxiong, who were assigned to Vietnam by Xinhua for reporting work from 2020 to 2022, also contribute to today's piece.
Regarding China's stance on China-Vietnam relations, it is worth noting the latest remarks of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi when he met with his Vietnamese counterpart Bui Thanh Son in Hanoi, Vietnam's capital, on December 1:
Wang Yi said that sharing the same ideals and a shared future are the salient features of China-Viet Nam relations. The two parties and two countries have seen close high-level exchanges and frequent contacts like visiting relatives, which fully demonstrates the high level and special nature of China-Viet Nam relations. China and Viet Nam have the same social system and shared ideals and beliefs, and bilateral relations should be at the forefront compared to other countries. Defining a new positioning and setting new goals for bilateral relations will not only open up new prospects for the development of the relations between the two parties and the two countries, but also make new contributions of China and Viet Nam to the cause of peace and progress of mankind.
Wang Yi emphasized that the foreign affairs departments of the two countries should encourage, support and coordinate with various departments and sub-national governments to follow through on the strategic common understandings reached by the top leaders of the two parties, strengthen inter-party interactions and exchanges of experience in governance, and help reach a new climax in practical cooperation in various fields. China and Viet Nam should actively promote mutually beneficial cooperation related to the sea, prevent the interference of external forces, accelerate consultations on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, and make the South China Sea a sea of peace and cooperation. In the international and multilateral fields, China and Viet Nam should closely coordinate and support each other to jointly uphold international fairness and justice.
Bui Thanh Son said
the party, state and people of Viet Nam have special feelings for China, and the friendship between Viet Nam and China is deeply rooted in people's hearts. Viet Nam regards the development of relations with China as a strategic choice and top priority, and hopes to promote the sound, stable and lasting development of relations between the two parties and between the two countries, and elevate bilateral relations to new heights. The foreign affairs departments of the two countries can work closely together, give good play to the role of coordinating and promoting cooperation in various fields, strengthen high-level exchanges and exchanges at various levels, and deepen practical cooperation in agricultural products, connectivity, high technology, tourism, and other fields.
The Vietnamese side is willing to strengthen coordination and cooperation with the Chinese side in international and regional affairs, and support the building of a community with a shared future for mankind, the Global Development Initiative, the Global Security Initiative and the Global Civilization Initiative. China's ideals and initiatives are in line with the spirit of the United Nations Charter and the aspirations of all countries to build a better world, and are conducive to the cause of peace and progress of mankind. The Vietnamese side is willing to work with the Chinese side to jointly maintain maritime peace and stability in accordance with the high-level common understandings between the two countries.
Comment: "Special" is the word mentioned by both foreign ministers. The relations between China and Vietnam are special: both countries are socialist countries led by communist parties, with similar political systems and paths of development as well as interconnected futures; also, China's reform and opening up have provided abundant experiences for Vietnam's development.
The year of 2023 marks the 15th anniversary of the establishment of the comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership between China and Vietnam. (Other countries that boast such a partnership with China include Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Mozambique, Congo, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Guinea, Kenya, Tanzania, and DR Congo).
In February, China and Cambodia released a joint statement on building a China-Cambodia community with a shared future in the new era, and in October, the leaders of China and Laos inked an action plan between the CPC and the Lao People's Revolutionary Party on building a community with a shared future for the two countries based on a previous plan of this kind four years ago.
Comment: What is the new position and the new goals that the Chinese foreign minister is implying? Will it be another level of partnership or something concrete in the building of a community with a shared future for humanity? And how will that help solve the divergence on the South China Sea issue?
U.S. President Biden paid a state visit to Vietnam on September 10 this year. During Biden's visit, the U.S. and Vietnam announced the elevation of their relationship to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, expanding cooperation in multiple areas including semiconductor supply chains, workforce development, scientific research, and mineral supply chains.
Regarding the purpose of this visit, Biden repeatedly mentioned China at press conferences and other occasions. He claimed that the U.S. is not seeking to contain China and is looking to improve relations with China. He "want to see China succeed economically", but this is contingent on adherence to what he referred to as "the rules".
On September 11, 2023, U.S. President Joe Biden meets with Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi, Vietnam. Behind them is a large bust of Ho Chi Minh, who led Vietnam during the Vietnam War against the United States in the 1960s and 1970s. (Photo Source: Reuters)
Yet it is far too simplistic to assume that Vietnam is choosing to align with the United States. For one thing, although Vietnam reserves its comprehensive strategic partnerships for a select group of countries, that list also includes China, India, Russia, and South Korea. And it maintains other levels of partnerships with many other states. In fact, such complex and multilayered ties—including with countries that are themselves rivals—is characteristic of Vietnam’s approach. The government has long sought to align itself with multiple countries rather than a single power. At the same time, for Vietnam, it is no secret that China is both an obstacle to and an impetus for enhanced security ties with the United States. Getting too close to Washington too soon could be seen as a provocation to Beijing and would likely invite some form of retaliation that Hanoi seeks to avoid.
Prof. 沈逸 SHEN Yi with Department of International Politics at Fudan University analyzed the U.S.-Vietnam relations in an article published on Global Times after Biden's visit to Vietnam:
Drawing over Vietnam is an important component of the United States' so-called strategy of confronting China around the world, which goes in line with some American elites' perceptions, and meets the Biden administration's needs to gain the upper hand in the 2024 presidential election in terms of short-term benefits.
For Vietnam, it's actually not hard to make a choice. Above all, based on basic rationality, it's easy to choose between having just a full meal and making sure every meal is full. Following the United States' steps as it envisioned might bring Vietnam some benefits in the short term, but such benefits are unstable and are largely dependent on the changes in the U.S. political picture and adjustments to the U.S. foreign policy.
On the other hand, what Vietnam can gain from China's economic development as China's neighbor not only includes inspiration and impact from a psychological and cognitive sense, but also includes the apparent development and enhancement brought by industrial transfer and economic and trade cooperation.
Generally speaking, in terms of Biden's visit to Vietnam, the U.S. side had put in a lot of effort in its early preparations and a lot of work in the international public opinion, trying to create a false perception that Vietnam would easily "jump onto the U.S. ship." The reality and the future development, however, will prove that the Biden administration's little ruses are all in vain.
Comment: How Vietnam navigates its relationships with both China and the United States is worth paying attention to. Perhaps many other countries facing similar situations, especially those in Southeast Asia, are also watching closely.
The Belt & Road Initiative (BRI)
China and Vietnam have been working closely together regarding development strategies, including joint efforts in advancing the synergy between the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the "Two Corridors and One Economic Circle" plan. During Xi's visit to Vietnam in 2017, more than 10 cooperation documents were signed between the two countries in fields such as frontier defense, the synergy between the BRI and the "Two Corridors and One Economic Circle" plan and renewable energy.
The "Two Corridors and One Economic Circle" plan, also known as "Two Corridors, One Belt," was proposed in 2004 by then-Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai during a state visit to China. The two corridors refer to the "Kunming-Laojie-Hanoi-Hai Phong-Quang Ninh" and the "Nanning-Luong Son-Hanoi-Hai Phong-Quang Ninh" economic corridors. The economic circle refers to the Beibu Gulf economic rim.
Officially inaugurated in January 2022, the China-constructed Cat Linh-Ha Dong metro line in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi stands as a landmark project of the synergy between the BRI and the "Two Corridors and One Economic Circle" plan.
A train runs during the operational drill of Cat Linh-Ha Dong urban railway project in Hanoi, capital of Vietnam, June 7, 2019. (Xinhua/Wang Di)
Comment: This Linh-Ha Dong metro line reminds me of a metro line project I saw in Lahore, Pakistan, which was constructed with Chinese assistance. Such projects, being closely connected to the daily lives of local residents, are sometimes more well-known locally than power station or hydroelectric projects in remote mountainous areas.
The South China Sea
Despite maritime differences between the countries, not least proven by Vietnam's long-term claim of sovereignty over what it calls as Truong Sa Islands and Hoang Sa Islands (China's Nansha Islands and Xisha Islands, respectively), the two countries have been strengthening maritime cooperation.
Chinese and Vietnamese coast guards have been carrying out joint patrols twice a year in the Beibu Gulf area as part of concrete measures to implement the consensus between the CPC and CPV on maritime law enforcement, according to China News Service.
The latest took place from Nov. 29 to Dec. 1. Such joint patrols have become an example of law enforcement cooperation in the South China Sea as they contribute to the efforts to crack down on maritime crimes and safeguard regional peace and stability.
Comment: I guess since Foreign Minister Wang Yi mentioned the South China Sea in his conversation on Dec. 1, there might be some statements regarding the South China Sea during the meeting between the leaders of the two countries. However, given the current complex regional environment, it is difficult to say whether there will be any major breakthroughs in their expressions.
The transfer of some of China's lower-end manufacturing industries to countries like Vietnam is an undeniable fact, while China is currently upgrading to mid-to-high-end manufacturing.
Vietnam is China’s biggest trading partner in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. China registered US$2.92 billion in direct investment in Vietnam over the first nine months of the year, 94.9 per cent higher than in the first three quarters of last year, according to Vietnam’s Ministry of Planning and Investment.
In late November, Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao told Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh that the neighbors should cooperate on “interconnection”, while Pham advocated the promotion of railway links.
The two countries are considering a major upgrade of their underdeveloped rail links to improve a line that runs across Vietnam’s rare earths heartland to the country’s top port in the north, according to a report by Reuters.
HO CHI MINH CITY -- Weakening global demand has left Vietnam facing its worst factory downturn in a decade, a sign that the shift in supply chains away from China has benefited the Southeast Asian country less than expected.
Shipments of Samsung phones and Adidas shoes have slowed in the country, a top producer of electronics and textiles, and overall exports plunged 10% on the year in January through August, the latest data shows. That is a sharp contrast with the 17% growth recorded a year earlier.
One upshot is that manufacturers are cutting back on staffing at a time of year when they are typically gearing up for Christmas orders. Industrial job losses pushed 300,000 Vietnamese into the gray economy in the second quarter, doing work such as fishing, farming or cleaning homes, according to the national statistics office.
Washington will help fund development of rare earths in the communist country, which has the second-biggest deposits, after only China. It also will donate $2 million for training workers in the assembly, testing and packaging of semiconductors. Meanwhile Amkor will open a $1.6 billion chip factory and Marvell will establish a semiconductor design center in the country.
"This partnership might spawn new opportunities for Vietnamese enterprises," Chaisse said, "thereby catalyzing an economic rebound."
Comment: Although a year and a half has passed, some of the views expressed in the article published last year by GRR, comparing the potential of Vietnam, India, and China in being the 'world's factory', are still relevant:
The article points out that despite the fact that both Vietnam and India are major destinations for China's migrating electronics industry, Vietnam seems to China as a collaborator, whereas India comes off as a competitor.
The article also mentions that the business climate in the south and southeast Asian countries has its own set of issues. Industrial chain spillover is not necessarily a bad thing for Chinese enterprises that take the initiative to "go global," and China's dominant position will not be challenged in the short term.
Huang Shuo’s take
Huang Shuo worked as Xinhua's correspondent based in Hanoi between 2020 and 2022. Here she shares some of her memories of Vietnam:
When I first arrived in Hanoi in early 2020, I hardly went through any culture shock to adapt to this city. Streets, shopping malls, and the traffic of course, are as busy and crowded as those in Beijing; young people love pop culture and enjoy taking selfies at fancy cafeterias; the Vietnamese language even shares similar pronunciations with Cantonese for many words; propaganda posters can be seen along the street (you can also see a poster featuring Uncle Ho Chi Minh holding a baby at Trang Tien Plaza, Hanoi's key business street)...... Oftentimes I would not feel like living in a "foreign" city though sometimes Hanoi seemed like what Chinese cities looked like one or two decades ago.
In Hanoi and many other big cities in Vietnam, you can find a local person speaking more or less Chinese without much effort. Chinese television dramas and stars are popular among Vietnamese young people (One of our assistants, for example, has been learning Chinese by herself through watching Chinese dramas). Haidilao has opened several outlets in Hanoi, which have attracted many local customers. Although remarks defaming China can always be found in Vietnamese media reports, there is no doubt that cultural and personnel exchanges between China and Vietnam are frequent with a firm basis.
From political and economic perspectives, Chinese experiences are also inspiring for Vietnam. Like China's reform and opening up, Vietnam launched its economic reforms, known as "Đổi Mới" in Vietnamese, in the 1980s, which contributed to the country's economic take-off. As China steps up efforts to combat corruption, Vietnam is now intensifying its anti-graft crackdown, with multiple officials of medication and foreign affairs being investigated and punished for corruption during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This photo taken on April 10, 2022 shows the Hoan Kien pedestrian zone beside Trang Tien Plaza in downtown Hanoi. The pedestrian zone around Hanoi's Hoan Kien Lake opens every weekend, during which no motor vehicles can bypass. The poster features Ho Chi Minh holding a baby, with words below reading "Rebuilding our country to be a more decent and more beautiful one." (Photo taken by Huang Shuo)
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