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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Vietnam: It's Time for the U.S. to Improve Relations

This month, tensions between Vietnam and China are rising due to a territorial dispute in the resource rich South China Sea. Recently, China placed an oil rig within 120 nautical miles off the coast of Vietnam. To make matters worse, China rammed a Vietnamese vessel as it was patrolling near the newly placed rig and fired their water cannons at the vessel as well (see the video below). Protests have since sparked in cities across Vietnam over the incident. Over 15 foreign owned factories were sent ablaze in response to China's oil rig.

China and Vietnam are communist governments with both of their economies recently attempting to become more capitalistic. Yet, they are not allies. It is not always the case where communist governments are allied to each other. During the Cold War, Yugoslavia was not an ally of the Soviet of the Union.

For China, it unfortunately clear as to why it is picking on its weaker neighbor. With China's recent military buildup and expansion of their Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), they are now optimist about carrying a "big stick" and becoming the a regional superpower (and soon to be a world superpower) while attempting to gather resources within their realm. Other nations near the South China Sea such as the Philippines and Taiwan (along with Japan and South Korea further away) all have treaties with the United States with many regarding to defense of the nation's territory. Therefore, China can afford to become aggressive with Vietnam without any significant repercussions, and if it were to somehow go to the United Nation's Security Council, China could veto any action there.

It's been 39 years since the fall of Saigon and while the stigma remains for both countries over the Vietnam War, the United States and Vietnam can mutually benefit with an alliance. As the United States shifts focus toward Asia, Vietnam owns Cam Ranh Bay, a deep-water bay and perhaps the most strategically important port in Southeast Asia. The last major navy to use the port was Russia, which was over a decade ago. It's been nearly 20 years since the United States and Vietnam began normalizing relations since the war and then Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited Vietnam in 2010 with Leon Panetta visiting Cam Ranh Bay in the summer of 2012.

Cam Ranh Bay is the optimal place for the United States to have military forces particularly the navy, in the hopes of containing China's aggressive expansion. While Vietnamese-U.S. relations have been slowly improving, it is time to speed up the process. Each country needs to realize they can help the other both economically and militarily. If Vietnam leased Cam Ranh Bay, both sides can finally move on from the Vietnam War and in return, the United States can protect Vietnamese sovereignty.

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