BEIJING—China on Tuesday welcomed a high-ranking Vietnamese delegation of Communist Party officials and
Cabinet ministers on a visit to mend ties following strains over rival claims in the South China Sea.
Chinese President Xi Jinping greeted Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong with full military honors on Tuesday at the Great Hall of the People, the seat of the legislature in the heart of Beijing, after which the two presided over talks and the signing of a raft of cooperation agreements.
Trong is being joined on the four-day trip by Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh, Defense Minister Phung Quang Thanh and Minister of Public Security Tran Dai Quang.
Tensions spiked in May after China parked a giant oil rig last May near the Paracel Islands, which are also claimed by Vietnam.
Widespread anti-China demonstrations in Vietnam left at least four Chinese nationals dead. Ships from the sides sparred in the waters surrounding the rig, leading to fears of a violent confrontation.
China rejected Vietnam’s accusations of infringing on its territory, but withdrew the billion-dollar rig in July, saying it had completed its mission and needed to prepare for the start of typhoon season.
The rig’s deployment was seen as part of a Chinese strategy to strengthen its footprint in the South China Sea, all or part of which is also claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam.
The spat exposed Vietnam’s lack of options when dealing with its giant neighbor. Hanoi’s workings are shrouded in secrecy, but it has long been assumed that the Communist Party is split between a faction that favors a tough line against Beijing and stronger ties with the US and those who believe a quiet compromise can be reached with China.
Vietnam has strongly protested China’s building up of reefs and atolls in the South China Sea, saying that violates Vietnam’s sovereignty and threatens regional peace and international maritime navigation.