News / Asia

Vietnam to Send Envoy to China to Smooth Tensions

FILE - China's Vice President Xi Jinping (L) poses for a photo with Vietnam's Communist Party's Senior Politburo member Le Hong Anh in front of a bust of late Vietnamese revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi, Dec. 21, 2011.
FILE - China's Vice President Xi Jinping (L) poses for a photo with Vietnam's Communist Party's Senior Politburo member Le Hong Anh in front of a bust of late Vietnamese revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi, Dec. 21, 2011.
VOA News

Vietnam is sending a special envoy to China to try to rebuild relations badly strained by conflict over Beijing's decision to deploy an oil rig in waters also claimed by Hanoi.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Le Hong Anh, ranked number five in the powerful politburo, will visit the Chinese capital on Tuesday and Wednesday at the invitation of the government in Beijing.

Thousands of Vietnamese attacked businesses and factories in May, targeting Chinese workers and Chinese-owned businesses after Beijing placed an oil rig in a disputed area of the South China Sea. The violence killed at least four people and wounded at least 100. About 4,000 Chinese workers subsequently left Vietnam.

Meanwhile, China has welcomed Vietnam's decision to compensate the victims of the anti-China protests in May.

In a statement on China's Foreign Ministry website Monday, spokesman Hong Lei cited Vietnam's recent promise that Chinese workers who were victims of the violence would receive "some form of humanitarian compensation."

Nguyen Quang A, an economist who often speaks out against the government in Hanoi, said he welcomes the talks in Beijing this week. But he told VOA's Vietnamese service that he is concerned Beijing might be trying to persuade Hanoi to drop its threat of international legal action against China's territorial claims.

“I think it is unlikely that any breakthrough will come out of this meeting if there is no real improvement in the situation of China respecting Vietnam’s sovereignty and being serious about a dialogue with Vietnam. ... Unless China does so, it is hard to see the situation getting better especially in the context when the international community has voiced concerns, and relations between Vietnam and the U.S. have shown signs of rapprochement,” said Nguyen Quang A.

The top U.S. military officer traveled to Vietnam last week to help strengthen regional security. The visit by Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, increased prospects that the United States may soon scrap its weapons embargo on Vietnam. But at the same time, Dempsey tempered hopes of heightened military cooperation with a message that Asia should not look to the United States when it clashes with China.

Last month, dozens of prominent members of Vietnam's Communist Party (VCP) called on their leaders to file a legal case against Beijing with the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea.

As tensions between Hanoi and Beijing reached their highest level in May, Vietnamese Premier Nguyen Tan Dung threatened to challenge China’s claims in an international tribunal. Since then, no such action has been taken.

Earlier this year, the Philippines filed a challenge with a United Nations tribunal over China's maritime claims. Beijing says it does not recognize international arbitration of the dispute and has refused to defend itself or otherwise take part in the proceedings.

Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia all have overlapping territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.

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