By Khanh Vu, Francesco Guarascio and Martin Quin Pollard
HANOI/BEIJING (Reuters) – Vietnamese and Chinese officials are preparing for a possible visit from President Xi Jinping to Hanoi at the end of October or early November, on the heels of U.S. President Joe Biden’s trip in September, four people familiar with the plans said.
The visit would underline the Southeast Asian manufacturing hub’s growing strategic importance, as big powers jostle for influence in the region amid rising tensions between Beijing and Washington.
Work is under way on a joint statement that would be issued during the visit, four people informed about the negotiations told Reuters.
Two of them said the parties were discussing a reference to being together in a “community of common destiny”, a phrase often used by Xi that some find controversial. Vietnamese officials were cautious about adding that reference, the two sources said.
A fifth Vietnamese source said the joint statement was likely to include that reference. It could be interpreted as an elevation of ties between the two countries, according to two of the sources, but it is unclear what that would entail and what concrete agreements might be announced.
That person, and the four informed about the negotiations, declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.
The visit has not been announced and could still be called off or postponed, but logistical arrangements have been explored.
“All important diplomatic activities of Vietnam would be announced to you when appropriate,” Vietnam’s foreign affairs ministry spokesperson Pham Thu Hang told a news conference on Thursday when asked about the possible visit.
The ministry did not reply to emailed questions from Reuters about the timing of the visit and the content of the joint statement.
China’s foreign ministry said it had no information to offer when asked for comment.
STATE VISIT PREPARATIONS
One of the sources said China had sent a team to Hanoi to organise accommodations for Xi’s delegation.
Another said the team has been looking to book 800 rooms in hotels in Vietnam’s capital, a number in line with a state visit.
China’s foreign minister Wang Yi was expected to visit Hanoi in mid-October to help finalise the joint statement, the source added, if sufficient progress on the text has been made.
The timing of Xi’s visit would coincide with Vietnam’s bi-annual monthlong parliament session, where he gave a speech during a previous trip to Hanoi in 2015.
The trip has been under preparation for months, officials had said.
Vietnam is seen as increasingly important to both superpowers, as it expands its role in global supply chains, importing industrial components from China that it assembles before exporting finished products to the United States or Europe.
Washington upgraded its ties with Hanoi in September, elevating the United States to the same top tier as China’s in Vietnam after a prolonged diplomatic push.
As China’s president, Xi travelled to Vietnam twice, with his latest visit in 2017, when he attended an Asia-Pacific summit with Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and other leaders.
China is a top investor in its southern neighbour, having committed to spending nearly $3 billion in Vietnam in the first nine months of this year, six times more than the U.S. in the same period and second only to Singapore, according to Vietnamese government data.
Beijing and Hanoi are at odds about boundaries in the South China Sea and have a centuries-long history of conflict; China’s latest war was fought against Vietnam in 1979.
(Reporting by Khanh Vu and Francesco Guarascio in Hanoi, and Martin Pollard and Yew Lun Tian in Beijing. Editing by Gerry Doyle)