A Chinese general’s shortened visit to Vietnam has raised concerns about whether this could be a sign of a major change in relations.
China and Vietnam are currently involved in a dispute over territory they both claim to own in the South China Sea.
General Fan Changlong is part of a group of Chinese officials that came to visit the Vietnamese capital Hanoi this week. The general suddenly left the country after a private meeting with Vietnamese defense officials on Tuesday.
There are some differences in public and private reports of what happened. Chinese and Vietnamese state-run media report that defense relations are going well. They say the defense ministries of both countries reached an agreement on how to train members of their militaries.
But experts say government sources told them that discussions about the disputed South China Sea might have led Fan to cut short his visit.
China is currently building man-made islands and military infrastructure in the South China Sea, which Vietnam calls the East Sea. And Vietnam has made efforts to form military partnerships with Japan and the United States.
Recently, Vietnam has also permitted a foreign company to explore for oil in the area known as the Vanguard Bank. The country has long claimed Vanguard Bank, about 700 kilometers off the coast, as part of its continental shelf.
Le Hong Hiep is a researcher at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore. He could only wonder about the dispute because there is no official information about it.
“In the past, Vietnam has been under pressure to [continue] its growth rate, so it has had discussions on [increasing] oil exploration on the South China Sea,” he said. “Vietnam’s activities in the South China Sea have touched China's interests, and as usual, China will find ways to [prevent] the country from [seeking] them,” he said.
This may be why Fan suddenly ended his visit, he added.
Carl Thayer is a Southeast Asia expert based in Australia. He said it is likely that Fan asked Vietnam to stop the search for oil in Vanguard Bank. Thayer said China wants Vietnam to continue with their past agreement not to explore for oil in disputed areas.
But Le Hong Hiep said what makes things difficult is the two countries see the agreement differently. Vietnam believes it owns Vanguard Bank, while China calls it a disputed territory.
In May 2014, China put a large oil-drilling platform about 193 kilometers off the coast of Vietnam. This led to a series of conflicts between the countries.
I’m Caty Weaver.
Radio Free Asia reported this story. Pete Musto adapted it for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor. We want to hear from you. How do you think China and Vietnam can solve this dispute? Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.
Words in This Story
source - n. a person, book, etc., that gives information
infrastructure - n. the basic equipment and structures (such as roads and bridges) that are needed for a country, region, or organization to function properly
continental shelf - n. the part of a continent that lies under the ocean and slopes down to the ocean floor