Hanoi (dpa) — Chinese President Xi Jinping’s first diplomatic visit to Vietnam began Thursday under tightened security after protests against what locals see as China’s strong-arm seizures of Vietnamese territories in the South China Sea.
“Xi Jinping, give back the Spratlys and Paracels to Vietnam!” said banners displayed during protests Wednesday in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
Some demonstrators chanted “Down with Xi Jinping!” before police dispersed them.
“Maybe Vietnamese leaders welcome Xi’s visit at this time but not the Vietnamese people,” said Nguyen Xuan Dien, a Vietnamese expert on Chinese culture who attended the Hanoi protest on Wednesday.
Police tightened security around the Chinese embassy in Hanoi on Thursday ahead of a formal ceremony at the nearby Presidential Palace.
China’s state-run Xinhua news agency quoted analysts as saying that the trip would enhance relations. It made no mention of territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
But tensions between the old communist allies have mounted as Vietnam cultivates closer economic and military ties with the United States and Japan.
Xi, analysts say, will seek to defuse the strife and emphasize the mutual economic interests and heritage of the neighbours.
China is Vietnam’s largest trading partner by far, but Hanoi has struck new tariff-reducing alliances in the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership, with the European Union and with South-East Asian neighbours.
The US and Japan have expressed concern that confrontations in the South China Sea could harm vital shipping lanes. They have provided Vietnam with vessels to reinforce its coastal patrols.
The US recently sailed a warship past one Chinese outpost in the Spratlys, drawing a protest from China but support from Vietnam.