Just days after the US sent a guided-missile destroyer near a disputed South China Sea island claimed by three nations, Washington’s Navy initiated naval drills with Vietnam.
The USNS Salvor and the USS Coronado on Wednesday sailed into Vietnam’s Cam Ranh International Port, where they will engage in annual “Naval Engagement Activity” (NEA), a joint collaboration set to take place over five days.
According to a Navy statement these exercises will include practicing the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, ship handling and medical evaluations along with skill exchanges for law, shipboard damage control and shipboard medicine.
“The United States values our comprehensive partnership with Vietnam and we look forward to deepening our relationship and people-to-people ties through engagements like NEA,” Task Force 73 Commander Rear Adm. Don Gabrielson said in a statement.
“By working and interacting together regularly we foster meaningful relationships and trust between our nations that contribute to the peace and prosperity of the region.”
He added that personnel from the 7th Fleet Band, Destroyer Squadron 7 and Task Force 73 will also participate in the drills.
“These naval activities underscore the deepening and diverse relationship between the United States and Vietnam,” US Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius said in the Navy statement. “Our security cooperation was an important discussion point during the recent meeting between President [Donald] Trump and Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.”
These annual drills first began in 2010 and previously took place in Da Nang. This will be the first year the exercises are held in Cam Ranh International Port, which opened in March of last year.
NEAs were established to strengthen ties between the two navies, as this year marks the 22nd anniversary of Washington and Hanoi normalizing relations.
While visiting Cam Ranh Bay in 2012, then-US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that the US having access to the port was a “a key component” to Washington’s relationship with Hanoi, according to the Diplomat.
On Sunday the USS Stethem guided-missile destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of Triton, an islet in the South China Sea’ Paracels island chain claimed by Taiwan, China and Vietnam.
Though the Navy claims they were simply exercising navigation freedom, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang called the move a “serious political and military provocation,” citing the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone which he notes has “explicit provisions on foreign military vessels’ entry into the territorial sea of China.”