The chair of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator John McCain, has sent a letter to Vietnamese Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong outlining his desire for closer cooperation between the U.S. and Vietnamese navies, USNI News reports.
Trong is the de-facto head of the Politburo, the highest-decision making body in Vietnam. In his capacity as secretary of the Central Military Commission, Trong is also the de-facto commander in chief of Vietnam People’s Armed Forces, including its naval forces.
McCain, in his letter to Trong, argues that the United States and Vietnam share a number of economic and strategic interests, including “strengthening an open regional trading order” and “upholding longstanding principles of world order, such as freedom of the seas and the peaceful resolution of international disputes”—a reference to the ongoing territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
McCain states that he is committed to helping “build the maritime capacity of the Vietnamese Coast Guard and Navy” and to “enhance maritime information sharing and response capabilities throughout the South China Sea.” This, alongside the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program, will be done under the Pentagon’s new $425 million Maritime Security Initiative, aimed to boost the monitoring capabilities in territorial waters and airspace of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand. Vietnam, for example, has purchased six U.S.-made Metal Shark 75 Defiant patrol vessels for its Coast Guard, for which the United States provided $18 million in loans under FMF.
Next to calling for an end of the arms embargo—the letter was sent a week prior to U.S. President Barack Obama’s trip to Vietnam, which announced the embargo’s end—McCain also calls for the Vietnam’s People’s Navy and the United States Pacific Fleet “to launch a more sustained U.S.-Vietnam Maritime Initiative.” Among other things, this could include increasing the number of military education and training exchanges between the two navies, and extending an invitation to Vietnam to join the Rim of the Pacific exercise.
“This initiative could also seek to expand the number of port visits that U.S. naval vessels can make to Vietnam each year as well as our at-sea exercise program,” the letter elaborates. According to USNI News, the United States has already proposed a plan for a number of regular maritime exercises in “which a U.S. ship would conduct a two-day port visit to Da Nang, two days of at-sea exercises and three days of in-port visits at Cam Ranh Bay.” Hanoi, however, still has to decide how to respond to the offer of joint naval drills.