Trong’s Beijing visit may bring Vietnam closer to China

Communist Party of Vietnam General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong’s visit to Beijing on Oct. 30 at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping is being seen by regional analysts as a way of ensuring relations remain strong at a time when other allies, such as Russia, are focusing too much on regional conflict.

Trong is the first foreign leader to visit China following the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China when Xi was elected for a third term as General Secretary of the Party.

Vietnam’s state media reported that on Sunday, President Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh and many high-ranking officials saw off Trong’s delegation at Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport, emphasizing the importance of the visit.

Thanh Mai, a Facebook user with more than 52,000 followers, said the trip “is a testament to the unity of the Vietnamese leadership as well as the leading role of General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong in Vietnam’s politics,” adding that the farewell ceremony “sends a clear message that Nguyen Phu Trong represents the Vietnamese leadership, so any agreements and commitments made by him will, of course, also be the agreements of all other Vietnamese authorities.”

China is one of four countries that currently have a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with Vietnam, the highest level of diplomatic relations between nations. The remaining three countries are Russia, India, and South Korea.

China is also Vietnam’s largest trading partner. Bilateral trade reached U.S. $230.2 billion in 2021, up 19.7% year-on-year according to Chinese government data.

Vietnam and China also have political similarities as both countries are led exclusively by communist parties.

Southeast Asia regional expert Carl Thayer told RFA Trong’s trip took place in the context of Vietnam facing a rapidly changing international situation with the increased risk of armed conflict.

“From Hanoi’s vantage point, uncertainties about the future of Russia under Vladimir Putin and the United States under Joe Biden following the midterm elections only underscore the importance of stability and continuity in China under Xi Jinping, re-elected to a third term,” he said.

Thayer said that the main goal of Trong’s visit to China was to work with his counterpart to come up with a reasonable way of keeping bilateral relations on an even keel.

“The meeting between the general secretaries of the ruling communist parties in China and Vietnam is very important to both sides for domestic reasons because it underscores the legitimacy of their one-party regimes, socialist ideology and paths of development. It is doubly important for Vietnam because one of its most important allies, Russia, is weakened, isolated and more dependent on China.”

Paris-based researcher Truong Nhan Tuan said that Vietnam will continue to follow China’s political model.

“Instead of the people being the central goal for the Party to serve, the Party has become the central goal for the people to serve,” he wrote on Facebook.

Tuan compared the trip to the ancient custom of Vietnamese kings sending envoys to China.

“Vuong Trong tortured himself just to prove that he was one of the most loyal people to Emperor Xi,” he wrote.

According to researcher Tran Duc Anh Son, Vietnam’s Nguyen dynasty, from 1804 to 1945, had to send tributes to China every two years and an envoy every four years. He said Vietnam also had to send an envoy to Beijing every time a Chinese emperor died and every time a new emperor was crowned.

Writer Luu Trong Van, who has more than 106,000 Facebook followers, said the current Vietnamese leadership should balance diplomacy between China and the United States. He said then U.S. president Donald Trump invited Trong to the U.S. during a visit to Hanoi. Trong accepted but was unable to make the trip due to health reasons.

“Trong is very healthy now. Unfortunately Trump [is no longer president] so Trong cannot return the same kind of visit as he did for Xi,” he wrote. “Hopefully the State Department will soon make an announcement that President Biden will continue to honor Trump’s invitation to the US so that Vietnam’s foreign [relations] will be balanced.

“Most Vietnamese people would be happier if their supreme leader had the same words with the US President as he had with the Chinese leader,” Van wrote.

The United States and Vietnam have a Comprehensive Partnership and Washington has repeatedly suggested it should be upgraded to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership but Hanoi has not yet agreed. Some international experts say that Vietnam is hesitant because it does not want to harm relations with China.

“Vietnam cannot turn to the United States because of two reasons: fear of entrapment in an anti-China alliance and fear of abandonment if the U.S. and China form a concert of powers,” said Professor Thayer.

Radio Free Asia Copyright © 1998-2016, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036

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