Naval Exchange Stirs Troubled Waters in South China Sea

Marianne Brown

Vietnam and the United States on Monday began their annual naval exchange near a former U.S. army base in Danang city amid mounting tensions over competing sovereignty claims in the South China Sea.

With salvage and disaster training as well as a performance from the military band, the schedule of events seems harmless enough.  However, some observers say the activities are an intrinsic part of a delicate diplomatic balancing act over contested territory in the South China Sea.

This year's event is larger than in 2011, with 1,400 personnel and three ships, including a guided missile destroyer, said Lieutenant Commander Mike Morley who attended the opening ceremony.

"This was coordinated about a year ago so this is a long planned event which is going to be taking place this week," Morley said.

The exchange overlaps with war games involving the United States and the Philippines that began last week. The exercises come during a naval standoff between the Philippines and China near the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.

Beijing insists the entire 3.5 million-square-kilometer sea is part of its territory. The Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, Brunei and Vietnam also claim portions of the waterway.

The latest spat began on April 10 when two Chinese navy ships blocked the mouth of the shoal as Philippine navy personnel prepared to arrest the crews of eight Chinese fishing boats on suspicion of poaching.

But Morley insisted there is no connection between the timing of the naval exercises with Vietnam and the Philippines.

"The two are completely unrelated," he said. "There are two completely different groups organizing each event."

Beijing called the timing of last year's activities in Danang "inappropriate," but this time around China has remained mute -- about both the Vietnamese and the Philippine drills.

However, some observers say background events are also playing a part. For example, just last week Vietnam charged blogger Nguyen Van Hai -- a well-known critic of China -- for publishing anti-state propaganda.

The move is part of Vietnam’s careful diplomatic balancing act with China, said Professor Carl Thayer from the University of New South Wales. On one hand, Vietnam holds naval activities with the United States and, on the other, it continues a dialogue with China.

As part of this, said Thayer, both countries agreed to control public opinion following rare public demonstrations against China last year.

"In Vietnam’s case, they ended the demonstrations that were occurring in public and cracked down on the bloggers."

In another turn of events, on Saturday China released 21 Vietnamese fishermen who were detained on March 4 while fishing near the Paracel Islands, an archipelago controlled by China but also claimed by Vietnam.

The release was a good move by China, said Thayer.

"By doing that it helps China divide the Philippines from Vietnam. The Philippines has been the most vocal and Vietnam has profited from it because, like an athlete on a bike race, it can sail behind the Philippines and get a lift higher with forward momentum without having to lose as much energy."

Not everyone agrees these incidents are relevant to the naval activities. Dr. Ian Storey, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asia Studies in Singapore, said the release of the fishermen is part of the inevitable cycle of confrontations surrounding the South China Sea.

"Part of it is to do with the weather," Storey said. "The monsoon season is over now. When the monsoon season ends, fishing ships and survey vessels they put out to sea and these kinds of incidents start all over again."

China may have coordinated its first ever-war games with Russia to coincide with the-U.S.-Philippines drill, said Storey. China is the second largest defense spender in the world, with expenditures many times higher than all the ASEAN countries together. He said the naval exercises are intended to show China is a military power to be reckoned with.

"The military balance of power is shifting in China’s favor, and before long, China will have a range of capabilities that will enable it to bring coercive pressure on the other claimants, should it so wish to."

Analysts say that is why Vietnam moving quickly to improve military relations with its one-time adversary, the United States.

U.S. Navy officer Morley said the exercises in Vietnam have played an important part in beefing up bilateral ties, which have been improving steadily since relations were normalized in 1995. Morley said he expects the events of coming years to just keep getting bigger.

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments page of 2
by: Luong
May 01, 2012 12:40 AM
Evil china must be wiped off the face of the Earth for its crimes against humanity. Everywhere that china has its dirty blood-stained hands, you see nothing but misery and suffering for the poor native people. From the Sudan to Asia and Latin America, china has done nothing but caused trouble for countless millions of people and this must be stopped!

Evil china is today's Nazi Germany. Evil china must be broken up into 1,000 smaller pieces for all of mankind to live in peace.

by: Steven Stark
April 30, 2012 1:28 AM
In view of all the facts and existing applicable law, the likelihood is that the UN court will find China’s petition to be without merit.

by: Mao
April 25, 2012 8:28 AM
I can see that the price of Vietnamese goods will fall dramitically just like what happened to Malaysia's birdnest.
In term of trades, China has the leverage. Many fruits maybe stopped from being imported into China.

Its hard to play the China game. Unless US can absorbs all of Vietnam or Phillipines' export.

I just wait for the price to go down before importing sea cucumbers.


by: Joey
April 25, 2012 7:59 AM
I agree that the US needs to stop being the world police but at the same time what is the US supposed to do when China is acting like a 2 year old claiming EVERYTHING as theirs? When China does that countries like Japan and Vietnam ask the US for help. Its not just the US, these countries are asking us to help contain China. So just put all the blame on the United States

by: Isaya Mazani
April 25, 2012 5:26 AM
US does not have a permanent friend but have permanent interests. Her allies today,tomorrow will be enemies once the interests expires.Take care

by: obsever
April 24, 2012 2:20 PM
It would disastrous if the U.S. is pondering to contain or even to partition China with the help of India, Japan and South Seas countries. The days of Imperialism is a past. No single nation should still harbor the feeling that it can contorl the whole at will.

by: Joel
April 23, 2012 6:14 PM
@William "The U.S. should end trade with China who is using their new found wealth to bully other countries"

The U.S. might want to lead by example there by stopping their bullying of just about every other country, including her allies.

by: HighWind
April 23, 2012 5:42 PM
Different countries just have different viewpoints, territory issues are sensitive ones. US should not act as the cop of the world. The economy of US and China is an integral part, so they should do win-win things.

by: pustary
April 23, 2012 5:09 PM
I can't understand.

by: Roy
April 23, 2012 4:51 PM
Us can back Vietnam in case Vietnam change it's own direction and none communist. Us need to back Philippines, because Philippines was US ally. Chine 's goal to have South-East Asia to be it part, and one day China takes over Russia too. The communist fish can eat each other in the next come in year.
Comments page of 2

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs