China's Ethnic Vietnamese Welcome Warming Trend SINO-VIETNAMESE RELATIONS

Article excerpt

FOR years, Yuan Biqing has scratched together a living in her one-room tenement, hunching over a worn slab of wood and pressing rice flour dough into Vietnamese dumplings.

Like many of the 20,000 Vietnamese in China's remote province of Yunnan, Mrs. Yuan has been buffeted for more than a decade by the stormy relations between her country of birth and her adopted homeland. But recently her Vietnamese ethnic heritage has become less of a liability with Chinese neighbors.

Chinese residents of Kunming spurned Yuan and other Vietnamese as the warm wartime relations between China and Vietnam eroded after Hanoi's victory over South Vietnam in 1975. When China invaded Vietnam in a 17-day border campaign in 1979, the icy looks of Yuan's Chinese neighbors turned to outright hostility.

"Once when I lined up to buy vegetables, the Chinese clerk ignored me and insisted on selling to the Chinese lined up behind me," says Yuan, crouching on a wooden stool. "When I asked why I was being passed over the clerk said: `Selling goods to Vietnamese is like feeding dogs."'

"We faced all sorts of discrimination, but now things are much better," she says.

Both Vietnamese in Yunnan and provincial officials are welcoming the booming cross-border trade and eased tension resulting from Beijing's gradual rapprochement with Hanoi.

For Yuan and other Vietnamese who still speak to one another in their language of birth, better relations between the two states promise an opportunity to reunite with their families across the border.

Improved Sino-Vietnamese relations have also spurred hopes in Yunnan for the reopening of a vital commercial link from the poor, landlocked region through northern Vietnam to the sea.

"Such a development will be a great benefit to the province's economy and its efforts to open to the outside world," Chu Chenhua, director of trade and foreign affairs at Yunnan's Economic Planning Commission. "But it all depends on a settlement of the Cambodia issue."

Beijing says it will not fully normalize ties until Hanoi completely withdraws from Cambodia and helps coax the warring Cambodian factions into electing a popular government under United Nations supervision. …