Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party Wednesday selected incumbent general secretary Nguyen Phu Trong to serve a second five-year term, a move that had been widely anticipated after days of closed-door meetings in the capital.

Analysts and economists said the reappointment of Mr. Trong, a Soviet-trained political theoretician, would likely maintain Vietnam on its current course of opening its economy to global trade and building stronger relations with the U.S. to counter China’s growing influence in the region, particularly in the South China Sea.

But some have also said that Vietnam might move more slowly to reform its heavily state-dominated business sector than it might have done under outgoing Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, who had earlier been in the running to secure the post of general secretary, traditionally the most powerful of the main political positions in the country.

Overall, though, there will be little change to Vietnam’s current direction from Mr. Trong’s reappointment, which was reported by the state Vietnam News Agency.

“I don’t see any immediate impact on the economy,” said Can Van Luc, an economist with the Bank for Investment and Development of Vietnam.

Some observers, including Zachary Abuza, a professor at the National War College in Washington D.C., have noted that despite Mr. Trong’s conservative background, he has embraced new approaches to Vietnam’s economic and security problems in recent years.

Last year, Mr. Trong became the first Vietnamese’ communist chief to visit the U.S., where he urged the U.S. to treat Vietnam as a market-based economy. He has also warned against what is widely perceived in Vietnam as China’s aggressive moves to establish Beijing’s sovereignty in disputed waters in the South China Sea.

Speaking earlier during the Vietnamese Communist Party’s Congress, which opened on January 20 and formally concludes on Thursday, Mr. Trong also provided vocal support for Vietnam’s membership of the U.S.-led Trans Pacific Trade Partnership.

However, Vietnam’s leaders still face difficult economic challenges, specifically slow progress in privatizing troubled state-owned enterprises which economists say are holding back the country’s potential. Some experts have said the more pro-business Mr. Dung might have moved faster to accelerate the process. With Mr. Dung as prime minister, Vietnam joined the World Trade Organization and emerged as a major production hub for companies such as Samsung Group.

Cellular phones and other electronic goods have since displaced textiles and agricultural products as Vietnam’s largest export, and the economy expanded 6.7% last year, one of the fastest growth rates in Asia.

Still, “Vietnam’s Communist Party has long been pursuing economic reform, including the privatization of state-owned enterprises and the economic integration into the global economy, said Nguyen Duy Hung, chairman of Saigon Securities Inc. “So whoever leads the party won’t change this path.”

By James Hookway - The Wall Street Journal - January 27, 2016