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The backstory: China and Vietnam, despite a historical conflict in 1979 known as the Sino-Vietnamese War, have maintained diplomatic ties since 1950. But, recent tensions over South China Sea boundaries have added complexity to their relationship. China's influence goes beyond diplomacy, as seen in its investments in Vietnam, reaching nearly US$3 billion in the first nine months of the year.
Economically, Vietnam plays a crucial role in global supply chains. It imports components from China, assembles them and exports finished products to the US and Europe. This makes Vietnam a significant player for both China and the US. But the power dynamics between China and the US in Southeast Asia have also put Vietnam in a challenging position.
In September, Vietnam’s Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong met with US President Joe Biden. This meeting marked a strategic elevation of Vietnam's relations with the US to a comprehensive partnership, representing a noteworthy diplomatic shift for Vietnam.
More recently: Last month, China’s President Xi Jinping underscored the importance of preserving strong ties and emphasized the "original intention" of their friendship during discussions with Vietnamese officials.
Continuing this diplomatic engagement, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Sun Weidong had talks with Vietnam's Deputy Foreign Minister Nguyen Minh Vu earlier this month. The discussions covered various topics, including bilateral ties, land borders and maritime issues.
The development: Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao met with Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh in Ho Chi Minh City this past weekend to enhance trade relations. Both parties agreed to strengthen ties, specifically in crucial areas such as the digital economy, green development and cross-border e-commerce. To underscore their economic collaboration, Wang also had a meeting with Vietnamese Communist Party Secretary Nguyen Van Nen in Ho Chi Minh City.
"Faced with the ever-changing international situation and arduous domestic development tasks, the two countries must not forget the original intention of their traditional friendship," said China’s President Xi Jinping to Vietnamese President Vo Van Thuong.
"We can trace a 50-year arc of progress between our nations, from conflict to normalization, to this new elevated status," said US President Joe Biden.
"China's position on the South China Sea issue has always been clear. The competent authorities of China regularly update and release various types of standard maps every year," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin.
"Vietnam opposes the use of force against Vietnamese fishing boats operating normally at sea," said Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Pham Thu Hang, referring to the South China Sea.