The Trump administration delivered six patrol boats worth $12 million to Vietnam’s Coast Guard, the American embassy in Hanoi announced on Monday, saying the move represents “deepening cooperation” in law enforcement and humanitarian efforts between the former enemies.
“Delivering these patrol vessels represents deepening U.S.-Vietnam cooperation in the areas of maritime law enforcement, maritime search and rescue, and maritime humanitarian assistance operations within Vietnam’s territorial waters and exclusive economic zone,” the U.S. embassy declared in a statement, according to Reuters.
The news outlet noted that the six vessels came in “addition to another twelve ‘Metal Shark’ patrol boats and a high-endurance cutter provided to Vietnam by the United States in the last two years.”
Soon after taking office in January 2017, President Donald Trump’s Pentagon vowed to “deepen defense cooperation” with Vietnam amid mutual concerns about China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Ignoring the sovereign territory of Vietnam and other countries in the South China Sea region, China has built various military facilities in the Spratly and Paracel Island areas.
Beijing seized Woody Island, the largest of the contested Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, despite competing claims to the territory by Taiwan and Vietnam.
Besides Vietnam and Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Indonesia are all contesting territorial claims by Beijing in the South China Sea. U.S. military and intelligence officials have expressed concern about China’s military activities and territorial sovereignty violations in the South China Sea.
Since emerging from decades of diplomatic isolation in the early 1990s, Vietnam has been eager to improve ties with large powers and the region to help balance its historically thorny relations with its giant neighbor, China, which confronts Vietnam over claims to the South China Sea.
Vietnam is also reportedly trying to boost its military relations with China’s rival India, a U.S. ally.
“An Indian Coast Guard vessel docked at a port in the central city of Danang for a four-day visit on Monday, Vietnamese state media reported, amid strengthening military ties between the two countries,” Reuters pointed out.
Under Trump, the U.S. military is expected to prioritize combating America’s strategic competitors Russia and China while maintaining pressure on Islamic terrorists.
In February 2019, U.S.-Indo Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) warned that China’s “massive effort to grow and modernize” its military is “eroding” America’s “relative competitive military advantage” in the region, which includes the South China Sea.
Adm. Philip Davidson, the combatant command’s chief, described Beijing’s actions on the South China Sea as a significant threat against the “international order.”
“Beijing maintains maritime claims in the South China Sea that are contrary to international law and pose a substantial long-term threat to the rules-based international order,” he said in an annual assessment of INDOPACOM’s activities.
China “continued militarizing” its outposts on the South China Sea last year, the admiral noted.
Last year, the American aircraft carrier — USS Carl Vinson — sailed to Vietnam, marking the first such visit since the Vietnam War ended in 1975. The move is considered to be a major testament to the growin relationship between the United States and Vietnam.
President Trump hosted his second historic denuclearization summit with the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un in Vietnam this year.