Chinese President Xi Jinping will pay a state visit to Vietnam next week, his third to Hanoi after a six-year break and as Beijing and Washington jostle for influence.
The visit, on Tuesday and Wednesday, will coincide with the 15th anniversary of the establishment of a "comprehensive strategic partnership" between the nominally communist one-party, authoritarian states.
It also will come just three months after Vietnam upgraded its relationship with the United States to that same partnership level. U.S. President Joe Biden's September visit to Vietnam put Washington on an equal footing with Beijing in Hanoi's diplomatic hierarchy.
But unlike their relationships with the U.S., China and Vietnam share a high degree of ideological convergence, with leaders of both countries often describing their bilateral relationship as "comrades and brothers."
Since Xi became general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in 2012, his Vietnamese counterpart, Nguyen Phu Trong, has visited China three times, in 2015, 2017 and 2022. He was the first foreign dignitary to visit after Xi secured his unprecedented third term as leader.
Xi also visited Vietnam in 2015 and 2017 but stopped traveling for three years during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over the past decade, economic and trade relations between China and Vietnam have become increasingly close. China is Vietnam's largest trading partner and second-largest export market, and it is now a major source of foreign investment in Vietnam. Vietnam is China's top trading partner among countries in ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
China's General Administration of Customs says trade between China and Vietnam exceeded $200 billion for the first time in 2021, reaching $230.2 billion — a year-on-year increase of 19.7%.
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative says trade between the U.S. and Vietnam in 2022 totaled $142 billion, with U.S. exports since 2021 up 3% and imports up 25%.
Despite close political and economic ties between China and Vietnam, the two countries have a decades-long sovereignty dispute over large parts of the South China Sea. Beijing's aggressive assertion of its claims has pushed Hanoi closer to Washington.
China's placement of an oil rig near the Paracel Islands in 2014 led to a standoff and collision with a Vietnamese fishing vessel that sparked anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam.
Tensions flared again in 2020 after a Vietnamese fishing boat and Chinese vessel collided near the Paracel Islands, sinking the Vietnamese one.
China's militarization over the past decade of the Spratly Islands, where it has deployed anti-ship cruise missiles and long-range surface-to-air missiles, has also triggered serious concern in Vietnam.
Vietnam has responded with reclamation and expansion projects on islands under its control.
While most Vietnamese have come to terms with the Vietnam War that ended when the U.S. withdrew its troops in 1975, many still look warily at China — a giant neighbor with whom they fought a brief war in 1979. Beijing launched a three-week attack on Vietnam to punish Hanoi for invading Cambodia to oust the Khmer Rouge, and the two sides had occasional border skirmishes in the years that followed.
A survey published in February by Singapore's ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute showed that while a majority of Vietnamese views on U.S. influence were positive, a growing majority saw Chinese influence as negative.
The survey showed most Vietnamese were not confident that China would do the right thing in terms of global peace, security, prosperity and governance, while 65% believed that Beijing's economic and military power could be used to threaten their own country's interests and sovereignty.