Almost under the radar, Vietnam and China have started talking to each other about resolving their differences. The Diplomat tracks a number of diplomatic visits between Vietnamese and Chinese officials during later months of 2014 (after the oil rig crisis), coming to the conclusion that they bode well for improved relations:
Recent exchanges between China and Vietnam indicate that both sides are committed to lowering tensions caused by the HD 981 crisis. China is particularly concerned to reset relations in order to take the wind out of the sails of those in Vietnam advocating “exiting China’s orbit” and to reassure regional states that China is committed to the peaceful resolution of South China Sea disputes. Beijing is offering to step up relations in a wide variety of areas to demonstrate that there is more to gain by cooperating with China than opposing it.Both Chinese and Vietnamese leaders realize that their respective communist parties are the key constituencies for promoting stable bilateral relations. Both sides stress the importance of obtaining consensus at the highest leadership level on what steps to take to restore the status quo ante. Both sets of leaders want to ensure that subordinate party and government agencies, including the armed forces, fall into line behind this policy.Both sides recognize that domestic public opinion could act as a wild card and disrupt attempts to restore and develop bilateral relations. […] The scene is being set for a visit by General Secretary and President Xi Jinping to Vietnam this year.
The question remains, however: Is Beijing willing to make actual territorial concessions as part of a general settlement or is it trying to put the dispute on ice even as it continues to make sweeping claims?Either way, this trend indicates that Beijing is going to take a somewhat similar approach in the South China Sea as it has in the East China Sea, where it recently began to let an extremely bitter territorial dispute with Japan cool down. It also wants to avoid public spats and appears willing to pay a price to calm relations.As we’ve written, China’s neighbors, despite the deep historical enmities between many them, have been banding together to counter China’s growing aggression. Toward the end of 2014, Beijing signaled that it planned to take a softer approach to foreign policy. China would rather deal separately with the countries in the region than have them all band together and be backed by the United States. It is possible that it is reaching out to detach Vietnam from the southern regional group by offering it sweet deals.The Game of Thrones in January 2015 is starting to look a little different from the state of play this time last year.