BEIJING (Reuters) - A top official of China's Communist Party told a special envoy from Vietnam on Tuesday the two neighbors should try to rebuild their battered ties after a flare-up over sovereignty in the South China Sea, the official Xinhua news agency said.
The visit to Beijing by Le Hongh Anh, a member of the Vietnamese Communist Party's powerful politburo, is the first sign of a concerted effort to heal the rift between the two countries, which share annual trade worth $50 billion.
"We expect Vietnam to continue to work with us to bring bilateral relations back to the track of healthy and stable development," Xinhua quoted Liu Yunshan, a member of China's elite Politburo Standing Committee, as telling the visitor.
"China-Vietnam relations for a while have been tense and difficult, which we do not want to see," Liu said, adding that Le Hongh Anh's visit reflected the Vietnamese government's "political will to mend and develop bilateral relations".
Relations between the two Communist neighbors sank to their lowest level in three decades this year after China deployed a $1-billion oil rig in waters Vietnam claims as its exclusive economic zone. China moved the rig on July 16, saying its mission was complete.
Rare protests in Vietnam turned violent in several industrialized provinces in May, with bloody clashes between Vietnamese and Chinese workers in central Ha Tinh province killing at least four people and wounding at least 100. About 4,000 Chinese workers fled Vietnam.
Vietnam, which relies heavily on Chinese materials for its manufacturing sector, has good economic reasons for mending ties with its giant northern neighbor, but perceived concessions to Beijing could prove deeply unpopular at home.
The dispute has seen Vietnam forge closer alliances with other countries locked in maritime rows with China, including the Philippines and Japan.
(Reporting by Kevin Yao; Editing by Gareth Jones)