Is China Interfering in Vietnam’s Politics With Its South China Sea Moves?


Some say Beijing is trying to influence the outcome of the Communist Party congress in Vietnam.

Are China’s recent moves in contested maritime areas aimed to influence the outcome of a pivotal Communist Party congress now underway in Vietnam? Beijing’s latest shows of force in the South China Sea have coincided with an unusually pitched and still unresolved struggle for Vietnam’s ruling party’s leadership, pitting Prime Minister Nguyen Van Dung, a two-term premier who has drawn progressively closer to the United States, againt incumbent General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, leader of a more conservative faction ideologically allied to China.

On Tuesday, Vietnam claimed that China had towed a massive oil exploration rig into waters both countries claim in the South China Sea and demanded that Beijing withdraw it from the area. A similar episode in spring 2014 sparked anti-China riots that ransacked Chinese and other foreign-invested factories, killed at least three Chinese nationals, and forced Beijing to evacuate thousands of its fearful nationals. At the time, Dung’s hard and Trong’s soft response to the perceived incursion underscored intra-party divisions that have since deepened over how best to manage China’s rising assertiveness over control of nearby waterways.

The new rig furor follows on China’s test flights to an artificial island Beijing recently built at the contested Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands. Hanoi said in a statement that the flights threatened regional aviation and called on Beijing to desist from future flights to the maritime feature. State media shrilly dubbed the flights, which reportedly passed through Ho Chi Minh City’s flight information region, “kamikaze” missions. Beijing countered that it had advised Hanoi in advance of the flights and that because they flew over Chinese sovereign territory, the flights were exempt from international civil aviation regulations.
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