Xi to visit Hanoi amid rising tension in South China Sea

Xi Jinping has stepped up Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea. Photo courtesy Reuters.

Xi Jinping has stepped up Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea. Photo courtesy Reuters.

The long expected visit to Vietnam by the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, has been confirmed by the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry despite rising tensions in the South China Sea.

It said he would visit Hanoi on November 5-6.

Some had speculated that the visit might not go ahead because of the growing confrontation over territory in the disputed waters.

It will be the first visit to Vietnam by Xi Jinping since he became President of China and Secretary-General of the Chinese Communist Party.

Vietnamese leaders have directly challenged the legality of China’s recent moves to develop once partially submerged reefs in the Spratly islands into  potential military bases.

They have, however, been cautious in their response to the recent American move to physically challenge China’s position in the South China Sea.

A United States destroyer on Tuesday sailed within the 12-nautical-mile territorial waters claimed by China around two of its new man-made islands.

A belated statement by the Foreign Ministry in Hanoi called on all sides to maintain peace and stability in the region and stressed Vietnam’s commitment to the freedom of navigation and aviation.

“Vietnam calls on related parties to actively contribute to maintaining peace, stability, and maritime and aviation security and safety in line with international law, including the UNCLOS and the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Vietnam Sea,” said a spokesman.

Former senior officials and academics, however, have made clear that Vietnam supports the move by the US navy to challenge China’s construction work and its development of what appear to be naval and air bases in the Spratlys.

President Obama had also been expected to visit Vietnam in November to put the seal on recently improved relations between Hanoi and Washington.

Vietnam, however, has not been included on President Obama’s officially announced itinerary for his Asian visit.

President Xi will not be welcomed by many Vietnamese who believe China is using its economic and military might to bully Vietnam in the South China Sea.

More than a hundred bloggers and other activists recently signed a petition saying that Vietnam should cancel its invitation to the Chinese leader.