This week, we witnessed the first-ever visit by Canadian navy ships to Vietnam’s Cam Ranh International Port. The interaction highlighted the activity within the bilateral defense relationship between the two countries, including in the maritime domain.
As I have observed before in these pages, Vietnam is among the Southeast Asian states that Canada has been looking to boost defense ties with, both on its own terms and as part of a wider effort to strengthen collaboration on issues such as terrorism and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and integrate itself more into political-security regional fora within the ASEAN-led institutional framework.
The past year or so has continued to see some advances in the defense realm between the two sides. Indeed, just last month, another first was recorded for the relationship when we saw the first visit by a sitting Vietnamese defense minister to Canada since the establishment of bilateral ties in 1973. That visit saw several developments on the defense side, including the inking of a memorandum of understanding on defense cooperation and a discussion on ways to advance security ties in areas such as cybersecurity, disaster relief and rescue, war legacy issues, defense industry, and maritime security, including specific references made to expanding law enforcement between the two coast guards.
Last week, the defense aspect of the relationship was in the headlines again with another first. Two ships from the Royal Canadian Navy, the multi-role frigate HMCS Regina and supply ship MV Asterix, anchored at Cam Ranh International Port in Khanh Hoa province on June 10 in the first interaction of this kind.
Per the official account by Vietnam’s defense ministry, the pre-arranged port call was set to last four days and comprising several interactions. This included courtesy calls paid by Canadian officers and sailors to provincial officials, sports games between them and troops of the Naval Region 4 Command, tours of several local tourism and historical sites, and visits to educational facilities.
The defense ministry characterized the visit as an effort to expand bilateral defense cooperation “on par” with the memorandum of understanding on Vietnam-Canada defense cooperation. While that MOU is in fact quite wide-ranging in terms of the activities it covers along with the various functional areas, both sides have regarded the visits of Canadian naval ships as one manifestation of ties in this domain, and notable firsts such as these are nonetheless far from inconsequential as steps to gradually strengthen security collaboration.