Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for greater cooperation with Vietnam as part of Beijing’s efforts to cultivate closer ties with the country’s reshuffled leadership.
In a phone call on Monday with Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc – who was selected for the post by the national assembly last month – Xi said that both sides should expand trade and promote high-level infrastructure connectivity through the Belt and Road Initiative, according to China’s foreign ministry.
He also said China was willing to offer Vietnam help in fighting Covid-19, but the statement did not refer to the tensions caused by their overlapping claims in the energy-rich South China Sea.
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“The two sides must continue to use a strategic and long-term perspective to view the relationship between the two parties and two countries, to anchor China-Vietnam relations in the correct direction,” Xi said.
“The Chinese Communist Party and government will firmly adhere to the policy of friendship with Vietnam, and we appreciate the new leadership of Vietnam for continuing to give top priority to foreign relations with China.”
Meanwhile, Phuc said that the two sides should strengthen their cooperation against Covid-19 and the quality of trade and investment ties, as well as handling maritime issues based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Vietnam’s foreign ministry said. Both sides also issued invites for a state visit.
The call follows an overhaul of the leadership in Hanoi that saw the 76-year-old Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong given a third term and Phuc, who ranks second to Trong in the Politburo, moved to the largely ceremonial presidency. He was replaced as prime minister by Pham Minh Chinh.
Xi congratulated both Trong and Phuc after last month’s government overhaul and stressed the shared socialist systems of both countries.
Late last month, Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe became the first senior Chinese official to visit the Southeast Asian nation following the leadership change. The two sides vowed to work more closely to manage their territorial disputes in the South China Sea, an issue that has long weighed on the relationship between the two countries.
Beijing’s recent attempts to improve relations with Hanoi come as Washington tries to deepen its own relations with the country, resulting in an invitation for Vietnam to join meetings with the Quad – an Indo-Pacific strategic grouping formed by the US, Australia, India and Japan.
The South China Sea has been a constant source of tension in the region, with Vietnam joining the Philippines in March to raise concerns over the presence of Chinese vessels at the disputed Whitsun Reef.
Last April, Vietnam also accused a Chinese vessel of ramming and sinking a Vietnamese fishing boat by the disputed Paracel Islands.
There have also been renewed efforts from China to push forward with Chinese-funded infrastructure and development projects under its Belt and Road Initiative after a slowdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Earlier this month, Beijing also used the promise of Covid-19 vaccines and belt and road projects to shore up ties in central Asia.
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