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Chinese Warship In Vietnam On Friendly Port Call


Today a Chinese warship turned up in a Vietnamese harbor. The frigate stopped in the central city of Danang. And the official port visit of this Chinese warship gets attention because in the past China and Vietnam have been in a state of war. Winning over the Vietnamese people will not be easy, as NPR's Michael Sullivan reports from Danang.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN: The U.S. military is no stranger to Danang where the first U.S. combat troops came ashore in 1965, beginning the ill-fated, decade-long direct U.S. involvement here. But U.S. and Vietnamese relations have improved dramatically in the past decade or so, and U.S. warships have made several port calls to Vietnam since 2003, both here and in Ho Chi Minh City. Not so the Chinese, which gives this visit added significance. But a torrential downpour this morning kept the turnout low, or maybe there just wasn't that much interest.


(Soundbite of people shouting and laughing)

SULLIVAN: The exception was a group of Chinese exchange students, waving their tiny flags and giggling, snapping pictures while Vietnamese naval officers stood stone-faced nearby. To hear Vietnam's foreign ministry spokesman tell it, the visit is designed to help promote the friendship and cooperation between the two countries. But many on the streets of Danang aren't buying it.

Mr. KAN YI LONG(ph): (Vietnamese spoken)

SULLIVAN: I've got a bad feeling about this, says Kan Yi Long as he sits in a popular coffee shop in the center of town. I've got nothing against the Chinese people, he says, but their leaders take advantage of us. They harass our fishermen. They keep islands that belong to us. They say the ship is here on a peaceful visit, he says, but I'm not convinced. That suspicion, that distrust of China, is shared by many Vietnamese. More than a thousand years of domination, occupation, and war will do that to a people. The last war - a brief but bloody border conflict in 1979 - left thousands dead, and many ethnic Chinese fled or were forced to leave Vietnam. The American war was terrible but short-lived, from the Vietnamese point of view, when compared to 15 centuries of conflict with China.

Mr. WU DENG HWA(ph): (Vietnamese spoken)


SULLIVAN: A Chinese ship is different, says Wu Deng Hwa. U.S. ships have come many times since the war, and their sailors have been welcomed on our streets. But I don't trust the Chinese, he says, and I'm not looking forward to seeing them here. In September, invasion plans posted on two Chinese Web sites infuriated many Vietnamese. The plans were dismissed as a hoax, the work of Chinese ultranationalists. But it took several days for them to be removed from the Web sites, heightening suspicion of many Vietnamese that China still has designs on its smaller southern neighbor.

Analysts say today's ship visit is part of an effort by the leaders of both countries to ease tension. China, after all, is a major trading partner and military power in the region. And more tourists visit Vietnam from China than any other country.

(Soundbite of ping pong game)

SULLIVAN: But veterans like 70-year-old ping pong player Lay Von Tang(ph) will take a lot of convincing. He served in the north during the brief but bloody border war in 1979.

Mr. LAY VON TANG: (Vietnamese spoken)

SULLIVAN: This visit is a positive first step, he says, but we have to remain cautious. They are our communist brothers, he says, but they have two hands. The one hand they use to shake ours, but in the other hand, he says, they hold a knife. So we have to be careful and remain vigilant. And he says he doesn't expect that to change anytime soon. Michael Sullivan, NPR News, Danang. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.