Vietnam Wins U.S. Defense Pledges as Tension with China Grows

The United States have promised a visit to Vietnam from an aircraft carrier and tighter defense cooperation as strains show with China over the disputed South China Sea, Reuters reports.

Vietnam has become increasingly desolate voice in Southeast Asia in opposing China’s claims to the larger part of the waterway and was pressured by Beijing last month to suspend oil drilling offshore.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis spoke to Vietnamese counterpart Ngo Xuan Lich in D.C., telling him that a tight defense cooperation was based on mutual interests including freedom of South China Sea navigation.

“The Secretary welcomed Vietnam’s engagement and growing leadership in the Asia-Pacific region,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

Both Lich and Mattis made an agreement on a U.S. aircraft carrier visit to Vietnam in 2018, which is going to be the first visit of that character since the end of Vietnam War in 1975. President Trump talked about a carrier visit to Vietnam with Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc back in May during a White House meeting.

The agreement was consistent with Vietnam’s diplomatic strategy of being open to all countries, said Ha Hoang Hop, a Vietnamese political analyst who has advised the government.

“Vietnam is not willing to compromise on issues of sovereignty and also makes its own preparations,” he said.

Beijing has been irritated by Vietnam’s growing defense relationships with the United States and rival Asian powers, including Japan and India.

Tension has risen since June, when Vietnam infuriated China by drilling for oil and gas in an offshore block that Beijing disputes. The exploration was suspended after diplomatic protests from China.

China was also annoyed by Vietnam’s stand at an Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting at the weekend, when it held out for language in an announcement that noted concern about island-building and militarization in the South China Sea.

A scheduled meeting between Chinese and Vietnamese foreign ministers on the sidelines of the summit was canceled. China also pointed to Vietnam’s own reclamation work in the South China Sea.

Beijing is sensitive to even a veiled reference by ASEAN to its reclamation of seven reefs and its military installations in the South China Sea, which it claims in almost its entirety despite the competing claims of five other countries.

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