Keeping Benefactors Closer: China Knows How

China-Vietnam relations signify a new breakthrough in the Asian power game.

Strenuous relations between China and Vietnam date back to the war in 1979, which lasted (only) 27 days but had significant repercussions on economic and political relations between the two countries. The countries are neighbours, and are obligated for cooperation. So, in the 1990s, they formally reestablished diplomatic ties, wanting to close the past’s painful chapter.

Although the China-Vietnam relations have been improving over time, with newest tensions in the South China Sea, have mad their differences come to fore again. The South China Sea is important not only because of fisheries and possible oil and gas reserves, but also for military reasons. China has even built seven new islands by dredging sand onto reefs. However, besides China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan claim their rights on the islands in the same. With China being financially more powerful and having superior military assets, the neighbors predictably face fears of destruction, and political pressure.

One such neighbour, Vietnam, plays an adroit game with the Russians and the Americans, to counteract China. It can be said that the region has become a new arena for geopolitical bouts for the world’s powers in international trade and commerce and politics. The Chinese President Xi Jinping has already criticized the US deployment of the THAAD missile defense system to South Korea, and its economic support to Vietnam. Relations in the region have become so exacerbated that many are fearful of a new war which, this time, would be truly devastating since it would use nuclear weapons.

On the other hand, a hope has come forth in the form of the recent visit of the Communist Party of Vietnam chief, Secretary-General Nguyen Phu Trong; this could be a new step in China-Vietnam relations. In the symbolic visit, Chinese President and General Secretary of the Communist Party Xi Jinping warmly welcomed the guest and announced the resurgence of their relations. Indeed, this could be the beginning of a new path for these countries. For China, better relations with Vietnam seem important for two major reasons: firstly, because Vietnam is a neighbor, and secondly to affirm that it need not fear China. Another significant reason is to keep Vietnam close for its military expertise, especially after its recent military modernization. Economics reasons are old. Vietnam is the main exporter of rice to China. For Vietnam, better relations also mean the closer ties in both economic and political senses, especially since Trump has withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The Belt and Road Forum will have an even greater importance now, impacting bilateral cooperation in the realization of China’s project “The New Silk Road”, which includes many infrastructure projects for the 28 participating countries; The project will be worth almost USD350 billion. This would perhaps be the most significant economic deal for involved countries, boosting their economies. Vietnam would have its role in the parallel sea route through the South China Sea. One more contribution to building better relations between two countries is the growing influx of tourists from China to Vietnam.

It seems that both China and Vietnam have realized that it is in their mutual interest to have good neighbourly relations. Not only can they mutually stimulate their economies in this way, but also avoid some devastating consequences, like a war. In recent years, Vietnam has become a significant factor in the region, while China rapidly is becoming one of the main economic and political-military powers of the world.

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