Vietnam appears to be showing signs that it remains lukewarm to Xi Jinping’s "community of common destiny" initiative, an attitude experts and longtime observers expect Hanoi will maintain during the Chinese leader’s visit this week.
In the latest example of Hanoi’s attitude, when Vietnamese President Vo Van Thuong visited China in October, and when Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was in Hanoi on December 1, China's official state news agency Xinhua quoted Chinese leaders as saying Vietnam should cooperate with China to build a "community of shared destiny." The Vietnamese state-run press did not mention that at all.
As Vietnam appears to maintain a distance from China, some researchers and observers say Hanoi remains uncertain about what the common destiny might be.
“The most important issue is what exactly the 'community of common destiny' is,” said Hoang Viet, a lecturer at Ho Chi Minh City University of Law.
"It remains a vague concept. Secondly, Vietnam has stated clearly … it does not take sides. Vietnam has to think hard about the 'community of common destiny,' because participating in it may be viewed as taking sides or may make other countries think that Vietnam is taking sides.”
Xi first proposed the concept of a community of common destiny in late 2012, based on a millennia-old Chinese vision of a world where people would live in perfect harmony and would be as dear to one another as family, according to a report from China’s Xinhua.
The report described Xi's vision of a world where “our future lies in the hands of all countries — equally — and all nations should pursue dialogue rather than confrontation with one another, and forge partnerships instead of alliances.”
But according to Nadege Rolland, a distinguished fellow of China studies at the National Bureau of Asian Research, Chinese leader Hu Jintao used the term in his October 2007 report to the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party “to describe the special relationship between the mainland and Taiwan, implying that two politically different entities could have reasonably good relations despite their dissimilarities.”
According to Rolland, Xi first used the term at the April 2013 Boao Forum as he underlined to the mostly Asian participants the need for common development.
Rolland wrote that the concept is inclusive, applies mostly to Asia and China’s neighbors, and has twin objectives of “common development” and “common security,” that reflect Xi’s view that “development is the foundation for security, and security is a condition for development.’”
She also wrote that because there’s no institutional structure, “the community resembles an informal network. … Yet it is impossible not to notice that China is the biggest and most powerful participant in the community and provides leadership.”
Parade of visits
The Chinese Foreign Ministry announced Xi’s December 12-13 visit to Vietnam on December 7, just weeks after Vietnam elevated its ties with the United States and Japan to comprehensive strategic partnerships, placing them on par with China in its diplomatic engagement. China views Japan and the U.S. as its rivals.
VOA sent requests for comments to the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi, but there was no immediate response.
Alexander Vuving, a professor at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu, said in an interview with VOA Vietnamese in October that Xi was expected to push Vietnam to join China's "community of common destiny" to try to build a coalition to counter Washington.
“If Vietnam agrees to join China's ‘community of common destiny,’ this would be touted as an upgrade of the current ‘comprehensive strategic partnership of cooperation’ between China and Vietnam,” Vuving said in an email to VOA Vietnamese, adding that this “would be interpreted by China that Beijing is always closer, or ahead of, or above Washington in relations with Vietnam.”
Speaking to VOA Vietnamese from Hanoi this week, Nguyen Hong Quan, a former deputy director of the Institute of Defense Strategy under the Defense Ministry, also expected that Xi will officially invite Vietnam to join the community of common destiny.
Quan said he expected Vietnam to respond with a focus on pushing for the two countries to improve the effectiveness of several cooperation mechanisms, especially in trade, defense and security.
Nguyen Nhu Phong, a former Public Security Ministry colonel who is the former editor-in-chief of PetroTimes, expressed his skepticism about China's community of common destiny.
"From ancient times until now, China was and is a major power, but their behaviors are very mean,” with words and actions that don’t match, Phong said. “I don't trust them,"
Phong cited recent news on China's release of a new national map in August claiming sovereignty over parts of neighboring countries including Vietnam, India and Russia, and angering them.
"China disregards the law, and a country that disregards the law and uses all sorts of tricks should not be trusted,” Phong said. “Now, they are talking about 'a community with a common destiny.' And then, they will use it to blur the lines. And then, they can manipulate others to follow them. That is a deadly trap."
Phong's words resonate with the views expressed by many Vietnamese people on social media. Posters are saying that due to historical issues and current territorial and maritime disputes, they do not want their country to bond with China and that the two countries should only cooperate for mutual benefits in trade and economic affairs.
Vuving said Xi’s visit “will be a big test of Hanoi's ‘bamboo’ diplomacy and its ability to deal with China.”
Bamboo diplomacy, which has been pursued by party chief Nguyen Phu Trong, is Vietnam’s foreign policy, focusing on developing balanced relations with major powers and diversifying relationships with other countries.
“Vietnam can leverage the newly elevated ties with the U.S. to extract some concessions from China. But Vietnam can also hold onto the ‘bamboo’ and bend to Chinese pressure,” Vuving told VOA Vietnamese via email. “The future trajectory of China-Vietnam relations will depend on whether or not Vietnam will be able to resist the Chinese push.”