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Vietnam says it will not side against China, as US’ Kamala Harris visits

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Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh reassures Chinese envoy before he meets US vice-president during her Asian tour. But Pham says negotiations for a code of conduct on the disputed South China Sea should be stepped up via the Asean bloc.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh has told China his country will not enter an alliance to confront Beijing, before he meets US Vice-President Kamala Harris on Wednesday.

In a meeting on Tuesday with Xiong Bo, the Chinese envoy to Hanoi, Pham said Vietnam had always maintained an independent foreign policy that prioritised self-reliance, multilateralism and diversification of ties, the Vietnam News Agency reported.

Pham said Vietnam would not ally with one country to fight another, and wished to enhance political trust with China, promote exchange and uphold cooperation.

He also said the two nations should join the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in stepping up the slow-moving negotiations for a code of conduct on the disputed South China Sea.

“The two sides need to strive to maintain peace and stability, satisfactorily settle disagreements at sea in the spirit of high-level common perceptions,” Pham was quoted as saying.

Xiong said during the meeting that the two communist nations had the same political system and beliefs.

He told Pham that China was willing to work with Vietnam and stick to the two countries’ high-level strategic directive to further develop ties, according to a Chinese foreign ministry statement.

The envoy said the telephone conversations that Chinese President Xi Jinping had earlier this year with Vietnamese Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong and President Nguyen Xuan Phuc had established sound political trust between the neighbours.

Xiong also asked for Vietnam’s support in opposing what China says is the “politicisation” of Covid-19 origin investigations. Beijing has rejected the World Health Organization’s proposal for a new investigation that was to include revisiting the theory that the coronavirus came from a lab leak in Wuhan, China, where the virus was first reported in December 2019.

Harris, who is conducting a tour of Asian countries, will on Wednesday meet Pham and President Nguyen in Hanoi.

During her stop in Singapore on Tuesday, Harris accused Beijing of intimidation over the South China Sea, but said Washington’s engagement in Southeast Asia was not designed to make “anyone choose between countries”.

Her visit came with US credibility in the region being questioned following the chaos in Afghanistan. The withdrawal of American troops from the war-torn Central Asian nation has triggered concerns over whether Washington may also withdraw from its commitments in the Indo-Pacific.

On the eve of Harris’ arrival, China donated an additional 2 million Covid-19 vaccine doses to Vietnam.

There has been a massive surge in coronavirus infections in Vietnam, with 10,397 new cases and a record 389 deaths reported on Monday.

By Mimi Lau – The South China Morning Post – August 25, 2021

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