Cross Post,  East Asia,  Indo-China

American Warships Return to Vietnam


Let us hope it is not a repeat of King Carlos’ intemperate remarks.

In events guaranteed to cause moments of extreme cognitive dissonance for anti-war activists up and down the country, this month alone has seen two American warships docking at Da Nang port in Vietnam – site of the largest American airbase during the War, and that of the final ground combat operation on 13 August 1972 – with the full welcome of the local authorities as part of commemorations of the 15th anniversary of normalization of relations between the two countries.

On 8 August, the Nimitz-class nuclear powered aircraft carrier, the USS George Washington arrived with as many crew as the population of Thurso.

Two days later, the USS John S. McCain docked at Da Nang port. Doubly significant was that it is named after the grandfather and father of noted American captive during the War.

There is no doubt that American interest is related to subduing Chinese foreign influence, especially as the George Washington previously had been holding joint exercises in the Sea of Japan with the South Korean Navy and may soon enter the Yellow Sea.

Hanoi, for their part and by no means alone in the region, is quite happy to have American influence to act as a hedge against Chinese domination. If anything suggests the latter it is Beijing’s presumption that the Paracel and Spratly Islands, clumps of coral reefs and sandbars in the South China Sea with barely a dozen bored soldiers as inhabitants, is Chinese territory which would extend influence as one lolling tongue as far as Brunei.

Although Washington DC has said they do not take sides over such territorial disputes, Hanoi feels confident enough to have entered a civilian nuclear agreement which would allow them to enrich their own uranium. Although this is reminiscent of the 2008 agreement between Delhi and Washington DC, it is unlikely that Hanoi would seek nuclear weapons: although that might have been said about Yangon a few months ago.

(Any doubts about this should not be mistaken for sympathy for Beijing’s view, as they now are engaged with less secure deals with Islamabad. This is after having shared nuclear technology in the first place, to frustrate Delhi’s weapons programme which was designed to point north over the Himalayas.)

Although Hanoi continues joint military exercises with Beijing, they seem to be adopting the tactic of survivors by pluming for the right side in history. Increasing clout within ASEAN and, in a reversal of fate which never occurred, Vietnam going to George W. Bush can be contrasted with a Burma in which kleptocratic and superstitious louts are trying to give themselves a leg-up in the free market and where North Korea or the economic-powerhouse of Timor-Leste are reliable partners; or where daughters of military commanders cannot expect to study at minor Australian universities.