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Vietnam - China relations in the new context

(LLCT) - In the new context, in spite of encountering multifaceted impacts, Vietnam - China relations are based on friendly cooperation with the motto “Friendly neighbourliness, comprehensive cooperation, long-lasting stability and looking forward to the future”. The two countries agree to be “good neighbours, good friends, good comrades and good partners”. In that spirit, in 2008, the two countries established a comprehensive strategic partnership. The two sides have established many exchange and cooperation mechanisms between the two Parties, States and National Assemblies and among Committees, Ministries, branches and socio-political organizations from the central to local level and synchronously deployed in many important areas.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (right) warmly welcomed General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong

on his official visit to China on January 12, 2017 _ Photo: VNA

1. The world’s current context

The world’s current context is changing dramatically, deeply, quickly, complicatedly and unpredictably, which is clearly shown in the following aspects:

The rapid and strong development of the scientific and technological revolution, especially information technology and biotechnology, continues to make great leaps forward. Science and technology have increasingly become the direct production force that promotes economic development, expedites economic restructuring and deeply transforms areas of social life. Knowledge and intellectual property have increasingly played an important role, becoming the decisive factor to the social development. Capitalism has passed the cyclical crisis and is entering structural crisis(1).

The world economy continues its recovery efforts but it has not escaped the impact of the global financial crisis that will continue to be complicated in the coming years when referendum and elections in the Europe and the America tend to have reversed compared to the tradition, which creates political cisis in many countries. The global growth is only about 3.1%. Two major economies, the United States and China, also have low growth rates. The US economy has achieved the GDP growth rate of 2.4% (18 trillion USD) in three consecutive years. China’s economy usually enjoys two-digit growth rate, but only reached 6.9% in 2016 (14 trillion USD). Japan’s economy increased by 0.5% and economic growth of EU countries was less than 2%(2).

The process of economic restructuring and adjustment of global financial institutions has strongly taken place and the rise of protectionism has become a great barrier to the world trade. Economic globalization is increasing, internationalization of production and division of labour has taken place more widely and deeply, the role of transnational companies have been increasingly greater. Participating global production network and chain value has become an essential demand of developed and developing countries.

Global issues and non-traditional security are challenges to the whole world.  Complicated changes with intertwined trends including competition, influences and also increase of interdependence among nations; the adjustment of strategies of big countries, issues of religion, race, security, development, disputes over strategic natural resources; sensitive territories, sea disputes, especially today’s Islamic extremism in the Middle East; natural disasters, climate change, migration crisis, epidemics, crimes, population explosion, poverty... are posing challenges to global organizations.

International relations are taking place complicatedly and unpredictably. Foreign policies of countries have gradually moved towards the realization of their own interests. For example, relationship between Turkey and Russia got worse when Turkey shot down Russian warplane, but it is better now; relationship between Russia and China, between the Philippines and China or relations among big countries like China, Russia and the United States are always adjusted to suit the national interests of each one.

The Asia-Pacific region has been deeply transformed due to the process of internationalization and regionalization. The concept of “Century of Asia” and “Pacific Century” reflect the dynamics and complexity and the geo-political, geo-economic and geo-cultural attraction of this region. In reality, entering the 21st century, Asia-Pacific is a dynamic region having the world’s fastest economic growth. In terms of geo-politics, the seas within Asia, the East China Sea and the East Sea are now being stirred up. The cause is that, different from other seas, including the Indian Ocean and North East Pacific, the stirring of the East Sea will have great impacts and even change the strategic viewpoints of certain countries, including the US and China.

The US, when implementing its pivot to Asia at the end of 2011, declared that 21st century would be Asia-Pacific Century. Asia-Pacific is seen by the US as the driving force for the world’s economic and political development in the 21st century. The spirit of the Asia-Pacific Century has been continuously mentioned in international political forums and is constantly realized. The US is upgrading military relations, sending troops to the East Sea, cooperating with Japan, Philippines, Singapore, Australia, and India to conduct joint military exercises in the East Sea.

China considers the 21st century as the ocean century, setting the issue of seas and oceans as priorities in the development strategy in order to realize the Chinese Dream. Together with its rapid economic development, constant efforts to modernize the army, China has increasingly growing its claims sovereignty over the sea, including the East China Sea and East Sea. It is noteworthy that maritime activities such as the placement of Haiyang Shiyou 981 oil rig in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone in the East Sea, military exercises on the sea, reconstruction of artificial islands, bringing ships and weapons to the islands and, presently reconstructing and civilizing the islands in the East Sea.

In the Asia-Pacific region, the confrontation and compromise between the United States and China has always been and will continue in the future.  Whatever the case, the US and China still need each other due to the great interdependence in many fields. This factor will have great impact on the relations between the US and China with other countries as well as among countries themselves. According to Professor Mohan Malik, this is the period of power transferring in Asia, in which China plays an important part in deciding the regional situation. In the article “China and the future of Asian geopolitics”, Professor Mohan Malik states that, there will be 7 major strategic moves deciding China’s behaviour and strategies as well as the Asian political context in many years and many decades to come. They are: 1) Conflict between newly emerged powers and current powers; 2) geo-political concerns; 3) Old and new competition; 4) Dominating the world is the story of the past; 5) Mackinder Matters As Much As Mahan; 6) Technology as a real leverage; 7) The future of Asian geo-politics(3).

Therefore, the new context is extremely complicated, unpredictable and contains unexpected possibilities. This makes it extremely difficult to forecast the world’s political future.

2. Relations between Vietnam and China and the impact on the cause of safeguarding independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of each country

Due to natural geo-graphic conditions, Vietnam and China are two neighboring countries, joined by mountains, rivers and the history of the two countries is often related to each other. In modern time, the friendship between the two countries was built and consolidated with great efforts by President Ho Chi Minh and President Mao Zedong, together with predecessor and present generations of leaders, which has become precious treasure of the two peoples.

In the new context, in spite of encountering multifaceted impacts, Vietnam - China relations are based on friendly cooperation with the motto “Friendly neighbourliness, comprehensive cooperation, long-lasting stability and looking forward to the future”. The two countries agree to be “good neighbours, good friends, good comrades and good partners”. In that spirit, in 2008, the two countries established a comprehensive strategic partnership. The two sides have established many exchange and cooperation mechanisms between the two Parties, States and National Assemblies and among Committees, Ministries, branches and socio-political organizations from the central to local level and synchronously deployed in many important areas.

- Regarding political relations

The two sides exchange high-level visits on regular basis, including the visits of the Party General Secretary, the President, the Chairman of General Assembly, the Prime Minister, etc. During these visits, Joint Communiqué, cooperation treaties and instruments have been signed to lay the legal foundation for the long-term bilateral relations, creating driving force for implementing cooperation agreements and tightening the mutual political trust.

Vietnam and China successfully held the 9th meeting of Vietnam - China steering committee in June 2016 with many positive results. The two countries successfully organized the 3rd Defence Ministers meeting (28 to 31 March 2016) and the first deputy minister-level security dialogue. These meetings have brought about important common perceptions on building peaceful and stable shared borderlines between the two countries. Relations between committees, branches and political organizations from the central to local level have been strengthened in many practical forms(4).

- In terms of ideological theory development

It can be said that cooperation in ideological theory is the particular feature of Vietnam – China relations because the two countries share the communist ideology and the same goal of building communism led by the Communist Party. The process of exchanging theories and identifying revolutionary lines between Vietnamese and Chinese leaders with the leading role of President Ho Chi Minh and President Mao Zedong has taken place since the 1930s of the 20th century. By the 1970s, when China undertook the open-policy reform and by the 1980s when Vietnam initiated the renovation, the cooperation in exchanging ideological theories between the two Parties and States has been strengthened. Since the beginning of the 21st century, Vietnam - China cooperation in theoretical research has prospered. The two Parties and States have agreed on the plan for annual collaboration in theoretical research and have organized many scientific seminars discussing on the most general and fundamental issues of socialism and those of mutual concern.

Cooperations in theoretical and ideological research between the two countries has made great contribution to summing up the reality, creating theories for the planning of precise leadership, which suit the historical context in each development period of the region and the world. These cooperations not only are significant to the two Parties, the two States but also make great contribution to the theoretical treasure and practical experience for the movement of socialism construction in the whole world in the new context and conditions.

 - In terms of economic, trade and investmen relations

China currently is Vietnam’s largest trading partner and the second largest export market and at the same time, Vietnam is China’s second largest trading partner in ASEAN. In 2015, the bilateral turnover, according to China’s data, reached 95.8 billion USD and 66.67 billion USD according to Vietnam’s data(5). The two sides agreed to strive to achieve the goal of bilateral trading turnover of 100 billion USD in 2017.

Investment cooperation has constantly developed. By February 2016, China has invested in 1,346 projects in Vietnam with the total registered capital of 10.4 billion USD, ranking the ninth among countries and territories investing in Vietnam.

- In terms of cultural exchanges

Vietnam and China share many cultural similaries. Historically, there was a period when Vietnam used Chinese scripts in State administrative management documents as well as in cultural creation and historical records. Therefore, the cultural exchange between Vietnam and China has a long and rich history. Many cultural similarities shared by the two countries have been preserved and developed such as the organization of Lunar New Year and festivals of the year. Ideologies of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism are both respected by the two nations. Vietnam always ranks the world’s first country in translating Chinese works of philosophy, culuture and history (Classic of Poetry, Analects, Mencius, Lao Tzu, the Mozi, Hundred schools of thought of the Xian Qin, Teng poetry, Song ci, Ming - Qing novels to the works of Lu Xun, Guo Moruo in early 20th century), theoretical works (Mao Zedong Thought, the theory of Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin’s idea of three representatives) and hundreds of other artistic and literary works.

The two countries have paid much attention to bilateral cultural exchange and cooperation. Both sides are actively implementing the “Plan of implementation of the Vietnam - China Cultural Agreement period 2016-2018”. Each year, the two sides exchange many artistic and cultural delegations; organize many cultural and sports exchanges to enhance the understanding between the people of the two countries. Both sides have effectively implemented the “Agreement on Cooperation in Sports and Physical Training”, in which China provides training for Vietnam’s athletes to compete in major regional and world events.

Tourism exchanges between the two countries have also been strengthened. In 2015 and 2016, about 1.7 million Chinese tourists visited Vietnam and 1.5 million Vietnamese tourists travel to China each year(6).

- In terms of education and training relations

Policy makers have stated that, thanks to many similarities the promotion of extensive and intensive exchange between Vietnam and China in education and training will bring about a number of benefits for the two countries. The practical development of Vietnam’s education and training shows that, in spite of regularly changeable situation of the region and the world and the ups and downs of Vietnam - China friendship, the general education’s textbooks in general and the teaching of literature, Oriental culture and Oriental ideology of social sciences and humaninities in particular, the Chinese culture, literature and philosophy are adequately mentioned. Thus, the great majority of Vietnamese people are aware of the philosophers of the Xian Qing dynasty such as Confucius, Mencius, Lao Tzu; famous poets of the ancient time such as Li Bai, Du Fu, Bai Juyi of the Tang dynasty or famous literary works like Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Journey to the West, A Dream of Red Mansions (Hong Lou Meng) as well as modern literary writers Lu Xin, Cao Yu, Guo Muruo and Mo Yan, etc.

Vietnam’s viewpoint is to strengthen its cooperation with China in education and training, encouraging Vietnamese students to study in China. Currently, there are about 10,000 Vietnamese students studying in China, and about 3,000 Chinese students studying in Vietnam.

 - In terms of boundary and territorial issues

The two countries have successfully resolved two of the three boundary and territorial issues. In 1993, the two sides signed an agreement confirming the basic principle of resolving boundary and territorial issues. On that basis, the two sides completed the entire work of land border demarcation and the delimitation of the Gulf of Tonkin. The two sides signed the land border treaty (1999), the Tonkin Gulf delimitation treaty (2000), the Tonkin Gulf fisheries cooperation agreement (2000), the Gulf of Tonkin fisheries cooperation Protocol (2004).

On December 31, 2008, the two sides completed the demarcation and marker planting according to the deadline agreed by senior leaders of the two countries. The two sides signed the Protocol on demarcation and marker planting, Agreement on border management and Agreement on Border Gate and Border Gate management that took effect on July 14, 2010. Agreement on free passage of ships at the Bac Luan river mouth as well as the Agreement on protection and exploitation of Ban Gioc waterfall were signed by the two countries in November 2015.

- In terms of the East Sea issue

The biggest difference in the bilateral relations remains the East Sea issue. This issue requires the patience, effort and composure of the two sides in resolving by peaceful measures on the basis of international laws, United Nations convention on the Law of the sea 1982, the spirit of the Declaration of Conduct in the East Sea (DOC) and soon drafting the Code of Conduct in the East Sea (COC).

In fact, the two countries signed the “Agreement on basic principles guiding the settlement of sea-related issues between Vietnam and China” as the basis for resolving the East Sea issue. The two sides established expert-level negotiation mechanisms outside the Gulf of Tonkin and expert-level negotiating mechanisms for cooperation on less sensitive issue at sea. After rounds of negotiation, the two sides have achieved some results, including the agreement on the establishment of joint technical survey team for the delimination and development cooperation in the area outside the Tonkin Gulf; agreement on selecting 3 projects related to less sensitive issues at sea for research and pilot implementation, including Project on cooperation in exchange and research on management of marine environment and islands in the Gulf of Tonkin between Vietnam and China, Project on comparative research on the evolution of sedimentation during the Holocene in the waters of Red River Delta and Yangtze River Delta; Project on maritime search and rescue between Vietnam and China. The two sides have established a working on group on discussion and cooperation for co-development within the framework of the Government-level negotiation delegation on the Vietnam - China border (2013) in order to research and discuss on transitional solutions that do not affect the position and policy of each party, including the issue of cooperation for co-development(8).

Thus, the special relationship between Vietnam and China is the one between close neighbours in terms of geography. The two countries are close in term of two thousand-year history recorded in literary history and are close, similar in culture and especially in the modern time, very close, similar in ideology and political system. “Rarely do any of Vietnam’s partners have as many extensive and intensive exchanges and cooperation mechanisms between the two Parties, Governments, Parliaments and between socio-political organizations, localities as China does”.

The relationship between Vietnam and China is inevitable. The friendly cooperation is the mission of the leaders and the people of Vietnam and China. The two Parties, Governments and people need to continue the co-effort to multiply the similarities, to close the differences and to multiply the friendship between the two countries.

The context of the region and the world has been and will continue to have rapid, complicated and unpredictable changes; nevertheless, peace, stability and development are always the aspirations and common interests of both Vietnamese and Chinese people. The future of each country as well as peace, stability and prosperity of the region strongly need the sustainable development of the relationship between the two countries. It is the wish of Vietnam that China will have stronger development, play a positive role in the bilateral cooperation between the two nations and the two peoples. Vietnam protects peace, stability and boosts the prosperity of the Asian region and the world.

______________________

l Endnotes:

(1) Samir Amin: Monthly Review, December 12, 2016.   

(2) According to the World Bank (WB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

(3) Mohan Malik is Professor of Asian Security Studies at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu. The article is posted on “The Diplomat” on July 2014.

 (4) Website of the Embassy of Vietnam in China: Overview of Vietnam - China relations.

(5) Website of Embassy of Vietnam in China: The relations between Vietnam and China.

(6) Ministry of Foreign Affairs, General Statistics Office, General Department of Customs, http: //infographics.vn, 2016.

(7) Website of Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Fundamental documents on China and Vietnam - China relations.

(8) Pham Binh Minh: Development of Vietnam - China friendship, Tuoi tre Newspaper, 18 January, 2015.

Assoc. Prof., Dr. Le Van Toan

Centre for Indian Studies

Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics

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