A Chinese naval fleet has arrived in Vietnam to promote military ties between the two countries, despite the ongoing tensions over contested areas of the South China Sea.
The 23rd Chinese naval escort task force docked at the Vietnamese port of Cam Ranh, the former site of a Cold War-era Soviet military base, October 22, with a mission of promoting military ties between China and Vietnam. The visit had been announced by Vietnamese government officials two days earlier.
Chinese military personnel will participate in activities with the Vietnamese navy and will also meet with Hanoi’s provincial leaders. This will be the last stop for the Chinese fleet on their way home after visiting Myanmar, Malaysia and Cambodia, according to Senior Colonel Wang Hongli, commander of the task force.
This visit is remarkable, considering it falls in a time of tensions, shifting alliances and war memorials.
The Chinese fleet came to dock only a month after the visit of the first US ship to enter the same port since the Vietnam War: on October 2, the USS John S. McCain and the USS Frank Cable floated into Cam Ranh Bay to celebrate the 21st anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations in 1995.
It is also in Vietnam at a time when the country’s leaderships are squabbling over the South China Sea. A highly-contested region through which roughly $5 trillion in international trade passes annually, most of the South China Sea is claimed by China, but there are overlapping claims by a number of countries, including the Philippines and Vietnam.
The US and its allies, despite having no territorial claims in the region, have set up so-called “freedom of navigation” patrols, which China has repeatedly called “illegal” and “provocative.”
The latest patrol happened right after the leader of Philippines, another recent Chinese rival in the South China Sea dispute, announced his country’s re-alignment with China’s “ideological flow” earlier this week.
Wang pointed out the China and Vietnam’s navies have increased their cooperation in recent years, including conducting joint exercises and joint patrols.