HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Chinese President Xi Jinping's meetings in Vietnam beginning Thursday follow the communist countries' efforts to repair ties strained over disputes in the South China Sea.
Bilateral relations plunged last year following China's parking of a giant oil rig near the disputed Paracel islands, which sparked deadly anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam.
The two countries have since tried to repair ties with high-level contacts including Vietnamese Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong visiting China in April.
Xi was given a red-carpet welcome and 21-gun salute upon arrival before the two leaders headed for talks behind closed doors.
"I hope my visit could help cement our traditional friendship, outline future development of our relations, and lift China-Vietnam comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership to a new level," Xi said in a statement carried by China's official Xinhua News Agency.
Vietnamese state media quoted Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh as saying that leaders will discuss strengthening of relations as well as the South China Sea and other disputes. Xinhua reported cooperation agreements covering party-to-party relations, trade, investment and infrastructure are expected to be signed.
But analysts say Xi's two-day visit is unlikely to mark much progress in addressing territorial tensions.
"I personally think it's difficult to resolve the issue of territorial disputes when Vietnam and China still maintain their positions," said Duong Danh Dy, former Vietnamese consul general in Guangzhou, in southern China.
Xinhua said in a commentary editorial that settling their territorial disputes depend on "the two neighbors' will and ability to properly manage their differences," and that they should not allow the outside world to interfere.
Witnesses said about 30 people protested briefly in front of the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi on Thursday morning before authorities took them away in buses.
Jonathan London, a professor at Hong Kong's City University, said it's in Vietnam's interests to have good relations with its big neighbor to the North and that Vietnam could take the opportunity of the visit to send a message to the Chinese president.
China says almost all the South China Sea is its territory, overlapping with claims of its neighbors. Vietnam and China both claim the Paracel islands, which are under Chinese occupation after it ousted the U.S.-backed Saigon government in 1974, one year before the end of the Vietnam War.
The two countries along with the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei claim all or parts of the Spratlys islands, which lies on one of the world's busiest sea lanes and are believed to be rich in oil and gas and fish resources.
China's massive land reclamation over the past 18 months in the South China Sea has rattled countries in the region and caused concerns in the United States, which supports the freedom of navigation and overflight in the area.
Despite the territorial disputes, China is Vietnam's largest trading partner with the two-way trade volume reaching $58 billion last year.
Xi is scheduled to give a speech to the Vietnamese lawmaking National Assembly on Friday, a rare address by a foreign head of state at the Communist dominated body.
The Chinese President is scheduled to travel on to Singapore on Friday where he is expected to meet with Taiwan's leader, the first such meeting since Taiwan split from mainland China since 1949.