DANANG, Vietnam - Three US Navy ships were welcomed yesterday by former foe Vietnam for joint training, despite China’s irritation following weeks of fiery exchanges between the communist neighbors over disputed areas of the South China Sea.
US and Vietnamese officials have stressed that the seven-day ship visit and naval training are part of routine exchanges planned long before tensions began flaring between China and Vietnam in late May. China has criticized the port call as inappropriate, saying it should have been rescheduled because of the ongoing squabble.
The US visit sent a message that the Navy remains a formidable maritime force in the region and is determined to build stronger military ties with smaller Southeast Asian countries.
“We’ve had a presence in the Western Pacific and the South China Sea for 50 to 60 years, even going back before World War II,’’ said Rear Admiral Tom Carney, who is leading the naval exchange. “We will maintain a presence in the Western Pacific and the South China Sea as we have for decades, and we have no intention of departing from that kind of activity.’’
The US and Vietnamese navies will hold exchanges involving navigation and damage control along with dive and salvage training. No live-fire drills will be conducted.
Vietnam and China last month announced their navies held such maneuvers individually in the South China Sea after relations hit a low point when Hanoi twice accused Beijing of hindering oil exploration within Vietnam’s economic exclusive zone.
China responded that Vietnamese boats had endangered Chinese fishermen near islands claimed all or in part by both nations and several others.
Vietnamese state-run media and a border official on Wednesday accused armed Chinese soldiers of attacking and chasing a Vietnamese fishing boat near islands claimed by both countries.