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Vietnam Party Chief Visits China After Maritime Dispute

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Nguyen Phu Trong, the head of Vietnam's ruling Communist Party, have met in Beijing as part of efforts to repair relations that have been strained over maritime disputes in the South China Sea.

China's state media says Xi said the two countries must properly manage their disputes over the South China Sea to create a peaceful and stable environment in the region.

Trong is leading a high-ranking delegation to Beijing for a three-day visit following China's controversial deployment of a oil rig in disputed waters last year.

Nguyen Xuan Cuong, Deputy Director of Vietnam's Institute of Chinese studies, said the visit shows the “healthy” relationship between Hanoi and Beijing as the two nations mark the 65th anniversary of establishing diplomatic ties.

But Trong’s visit is also comes ahead of a rare trip by him to Washington this year, a visit that has been confirmed by the U.S. Ambassador to Hanoi, Ted Osius.

Tuong Lai, former advisor to Vietnamese prime ministers, said he is not surprised at the party chief’s decision to visit China first, as Vietnam "always seeks advice from its giant neighbor on important issues."

However, observers say Beijing's assertive moves in the South China Sea has brought the Vietnamese closer to Washington. Lai said Vietnam should seize the chance to align with the U.S. as its former foe is carrying out a rebalancing policy towards Asia.

“It is a once-in-a-life-time opportunity for Vietnam to keep itself out of China’s orbit. Chinese expansionism at sea is clear to the Vietnamese. The U.S. rebalance toward Asia requires close cooperation with some countries in South East Asia, and it is a chance that can’t be missed," he said.

The former advisor to Vietnamese prime ministers was among dozens of prominent Communist Party members who called on their leaders last year to file a legal case against Beijing with the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea.

But no such action has been taken by Hanoi, even though Vietnam has expressed support for the maritime lawsuit filed against China by the Philippines.

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