Chinese president Xi Jinping, right, and Vietnamese Communist Party Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong during a welcoming ceremony at the presidential palace in Hanoi.Picture: AP
Hanoi: Chinese President Xi Jinping was welcomed with a 21-cannon salute in Hanoi yesterday during his first overseas visit after being re-elected as Communist Party chief last month.

Ties between China and Vietnam have cooled recently over a territorial dispute in the South China Sea, and Xi’s visit is seen as an effort to improve relations.

The powerful Chinese leader held talks with his Vietnamese counterpart, party chief Nguyen Phu Trong, but the meeting was closed to most of the foreign media and it was unclear what was discussed.

He attended the inauguration ceremony of Hanoi’s new Vietnam-China Friendship Palace, a lavish convention building sponsored by China intended for use during bilateral exchanges, prior to the welcoming ceremony.

Anti-China memes have gone viral on Vietnamese social media since Xi’s arrival, including an image of Xi’s face flooded with red dislike emojis contrasted with one of Trump receiving yellow smiley faces and blue thumbs-up.

Contempt for China, which colonised Vietnam for nearly 1000 years and is generally seen as a historical enemy, is common in Vietnam.

China and Vietnam need to “stay committed to seeking a fundamental and durable solution to their maritime issues acceptable to both sides through friendly consultation”, Xi said in an article published by the state news agency Xinhua.

Xi’s arrival came not long after US President Donald Trump and his Vietnamese counterpart Tran Dai Quang discussed the South China Sea, and Trump offered to help mediate.

Vietnam and the US have grown increasingly close in recent years as both countries fear Chinese ambitions in the disputed waterway.

Visiting Vietnam last year, former US President Barack Obama lifted weapons sanctions against Vietnam, paving a path forward for arms deals between the two countries.

Meanwhile, the relationship between Vietnam and China has been impeded by the South China Sea row. Beijing claims almost the entire sea, a key shipping lane that is believed to be rich in resources.

This claim is rejected by Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan. - dpa