Mon, Aug 09, 2010 - Page 5 News List

Former enemies US, Vietnam now military allies

AP, aboard the USS GEORGE WASHINGTON

Cold War enemies the US and Vietnam demonstrated their blossoming military relationship yesterday as a US nuclear supercarrier floated in waters off the Southeast Asian nation’s coast — sending a message that China is not the region’s only big player.

The visit comes as the US and Vietnam cozy up to each other in a number of areas, from negotiating a controversial deal to share civilian nuclear fuel and technology, to agreeing that China needs to work with its neighbors to resolve territorial claims in the South China Sea.

The USS George Washington’s stop is officially billed as a commemoration of last month’s 15th anniversary of normalized diplomatic relations between the former foes, but the timing also reflects Washington’s heightened interest in maintaining security and stability in the Asia-Pacific amid tensions following the sinking of a South Korean warship in March, which killed 46 sailors.

North Korea has been blamed for the attack, but has vehemently denied any involvement.

Last month, during an Asian security meeting in Hanoi, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton angered China by unexpectedly calling on Beijing to resolve territorial claims with Southeast Asian countries over islands in the South China Sea.

China claims the entire sea and the disputed Spratly and Paracel islands over which it exercises complete sovereignty. However, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines have also staked claims to some or all of the territory, which straddles vital shipping lanes, important fishing grounds and is believed to be rich in oil and natural gas reserves.

“The problem is that China has now committed herself, publicly, to sovereignty of the South China Sea and to push that back, if only to the status of a claim that is not enforced, is going to be very difficult,” said Arthur Waldron, an international relations specialist at the University of Pennsylvania.

Vietnam has long been vocal about the issue, protesting China’s plans to bring tourists to the islands and most recently seismic studies conducted near the Paracels.

“Vietnam does not support containing China, but like most other ASEAN members would like to see each major power offset the other,” Carl Thayer, a Vietnam expert at the Australian Defense Force Academy in Canberra, said.

The George Washington is based in Japan. It can carry up to 70 aircraft, more than 5,000 sailors and aviators and about 1.8 million kilograms of bombs.

The supercarrier came to Vietnam following four days of high-profile military exercises last month with South Korea aimed at showing solidarity following the sinking of the 1,200-tonne Cheonan. The drills enraged Pyongyang and drew criticism from China.

A Chinese newspaper ran a front-page story last week strongly hinting that Beijing is unhappy about reports that Vietnam and the US are negotiating a civilian nuclear fuel and technology deal that could allow Vietnam to enrich uranium.

US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said China had not been consulted about the talks, but he would not discuss the specifics of the enrichment provision.

US congressional aides have said the agreement will likely not contain a no-enrichment pledge, which the US promotes as the “gold standard” for civilian nuclear cooperation accords, to ensure materials are not being used to build a nuclear weapon.

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