Vietnam signals good will
Updated: 2014-08-28 07:01
The fatal mid-may anti-china riots in Vietnam were so destructive that few will anticipate a hasty two-day visit by a Vietnamese special envoy will suffice to repair the damage.
Yes, Le Hong Anh is the fifth most powerful man in Vietnam. And visiting as special envoy of the Communist Party of Vietnam Central Committee, he is the highest-ranking Vietnamese official to visit Beijing since the riots froze bilateral ties.
Yes, as it has declared, Hanoi now wants to defrost ties. Whether it likes it or not, its economic interdependence with China means it is difficult for Hanoi to sustain a costly standoff.
Certainly Beijing is also interested in repairing strained relations, or Le would not have visited and talked with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Angry as it was at the riots and Hanoi's de facto acquiescence, Beijing knows hostility does no good except further destabilizing the neighborhood, which serves neither Vietnamese, nor Chinese interests.
China and Vietnam have not always been on good terms. But from thousands of years of dealing with each other, they have learned the significance of good-neighborliness. A near neighbor is better than a distant cousin; they know this.
The biggest obstacle estranging the two has been their territorial dispute. Each of their recent conflicts arose from there.
Territorial disputes can be furious, even fierce. But the successful North Bay demarcation suggests that they do not have to be, as long as both sides can demonstrate reason and sincerity. The latest row in the South China Sea has escalated to such a degree because Hanoi has lost its mind with incitement from outside.
Having fought with Beijing so many times, Hanoi should have learnt that although Beijing will not hesitate to fight and defend its territorial integrity, it is always open to consultations when it comes to territorial disputes.
What annoys Beijing the most, though, has been Hanoi's capriciousness and duplicity regarding the dispute. The guarded optimism Beijing has displayed over Le's visit reflects the prevailing suspicion that Hanoi's positive tune may easily reverse at any time.
As a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman once said, Beijing cares more about what Hanoi does than what it says.
As Le's visit indicates, the special kinship between the Chinese and Vietnamese communist parties could offer an additional guarantee for bilateral communication, making it easier for the two to address differences.
Hanoi's problem, however, is the illusion that outsider intervention can help it win bigger through confronting Beijing.