The guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain made a port call at the central Vietnamese city of Da Nang on Tuesday to mark the 15th anniversary of normalization of relations between the United States and Vietnam. The visit by the warship comes amid escalating tensions with China over a territorial dispute in the South China Sea.
The commanders and crew of 290 sailors of the USS John S. McCain were welcomed by local government officials and regional naval officers at the port in Da Nang. The commanding officer, Commander Jeffrey Kim, described the evolving relationship between the two countries.
"Over the last 15 years, we've established trust, a mutual respect, and I know that, in the coming years, our friendship and relationship will continue to become better," said Commander Kim.
During the four-day visit of the warship, many activities consisting of non-combat training such as damage control and search and rescue are due to take place, in addition to an exchange of skills in areas like cooking and maintenance. Captain David Lausman of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington discussed the significance of the event.
"Today, we are operating in international water demonstrating our work with specifically this partner, Vietnam, and this specific area," said Captain Lausman. "But, the same procedure goes throughout the entire world, whether it is us or any other navy that every country has the inherent right to operate peacefully in every international water space."
Territorial disputes in the South China Sea, a vital area for shipping and potentially rich in energy deposits, have been escalating for decades between China, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam. However, Beijing says the issue is one of its "core interests" and that its sovereignty over the more than 648,000 square miles of waters and more than 200 mostly-uninhabited small islands, rocks and reefs is incontrovertible. Captain Ross Myers, commander of Carrier Wing Five of USS George Washington, echoed the U.S. stance on the issue.
"With Vietnam here in the South China Sea, it is to promote the freedom of navigation that every country, every nation, and all peoples enjoy: the freedom of navigation and the support for international law to protect the freedom of navigation," said Captain Myers. "So, yes, there are strategic implications in the importance of the South China Sea, and the freedom of navigation is vital to both Vietnam and the United States.
Recently, since China adopted a harder line on its claims to the South China Sea, and the United States has entered into the debate, tensions in the area have escalated.