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A Chinese train draped in red ribbons and banners crossed into Vietnam Wednesday as officials from both sides pledged to turn the once-tense frontier into a crossroads for peaceful trade.

The reopening of rail links 17 years after they were cut by war dramatized the recent improvement in relations between the socialist neighbors, who have often been political rivals."The reopening of rail links will definitely have a positive effect on the development of relations," Vietnam's deputy minister of transport, Bui Van Suong, said as he welcomed the trainload of Chinese officials to Dong Dang, 2 miles south of the border.

"This reopening will also help Vietnam integrate into the region and the world, culturally and economically," he said. "We will try to develop this train into an international-standard express train. That will be a symbol of the profound friendly relationship between these two brotherly countries."

Deputy foreign ministers Vu Khoan of Vietnam and Tang Jiaxuan of China met briefly in the train station while dancers on the platform performed dragon and lion dances - a shared tradition learned from China during its more than 1,000 years of rule over Vietnam.

Vietnamese officials also traveled to the Chinese side of the border for a ceremony at the Ping-xiang station.

Some attribute Vietnam's increased warmth and flexibility toward its long-feared neighbor to disappointment in Washington's slowness to reach a trade agreement and its calls for Hanoi to release political prisoners. Many Vietnamese and Chinese military and party officials believe they share a common enemy in Western liberalism.

The restored rail link enables travelers and cargo to go by rail from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam's southernmost rail stop, to London.