The US and Vietnam have commenced joint naval exercises in the disputed South China Sea amid growing tensions with China.
The activities are confined to noncombat training, and the US has stressed that the they are part of routine exchanges that were planned months in advance. However, Gen. Chen Bingde, chief fo the General Staff of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, said the timing of the naval exercises was “inappropriate” and should have been rescheduled.
The exchanges represent a push by the US to deepen military ties across Southeast Asia, especially in the face of greater shared concerns over China. The US has expanded its military and training exercises with Asian countries to include Malaysia, Cambodia and Bangladesh for the first time, and has deployed new hardware in Singapore.
“I think this is going to make the Chinese quite nervous,” said Bonnie Glaser, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
“We’ve had a presence in the Western Pacific and the South China Sea for 50 to 60 years,” said US Rear Adm. Tom Carney, who is leading the naval exchange in Vietnam. “We have no intention of departing from that kind of activity.”
Report & Analysis: US, Vietnam in exercises amid tensions with China [WSJ, 16 Jul 2011]
Tensions between the US and China have been particularly strained following US President Barack Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama regarding the status of Tibet. Sunday saw China issuing a formal protest over the meeting, saying that Washington had “grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs” and accused the US of supporting “anti-China separatist forces.”
Report: China formally protests Obama meeting with Dalai Lama [VOA News, 17 Jul 2011]
Also on Sunday, a group of Vietnamese marched to denounce China’s actions, despite other protestors being hauled away by police in a crackdown. The protestors shouted "Down with China," carrying signs that read "China stop invading Vietnam, stop murdering Vietnamese fishermen," before they were taken away in buses and detained.
Although demonstrations are rare in communist Vietnam, authorities have allowed the anti-China protests to take place for several weeks. However, the government began clamping down on demonstrations last weekend, with protestors and journalists briefly detained.
Report & Analysis: Vietnamese hold anti-China march despite crackdown [AP, 17 Jul 2011]
Tensions over the territorial dispute showed signs of clearing as Vietnamese Vice Foreign Minister Ho Xuan Son met with China state councilor Dai Bingguo in late June. China reported that the countries had agreed to negotiate peacefully for a resolution. However, an incident last week in which Chinese soldiers allegedly attacked a Vietnamese fishing boat refueled tempers and prompted new demonstrations in Hanoi.
SIIA Insight: China reports agreement with Vietnam on South China Sea [SIIA, 27 Jun 2011]
Report & Analysis: Vietnam: Chinese soldiers attack fishermen [AP, 15 Jul 2011]