http://www.bbc.co.uk/vietnamese/vietnam ... ysis.shtml
Link to the article (in vietnamese) and the English translation.
Vietnamís trump card in the South China Sea disputes?
By Quynh Le Ė BBCVietnamese.com
As tension in the South China Sea rises, there is rumour that the US is seeking lease of
Vietnam's Cam Ranh Bay.
Hong Kong-based Wen Wei Po newspaper recently claimed the US is seeking to lease
the military base in Cam Ranh, completing its attempt to "encircle" China.
However, Western observers doubt Vietnam would once again allow foreign armies'
presence on its soil.
Such rumours have surfaced occasionally since the day the Russian flag was lowered the
last time in Cam Ranh in 2002.
Given recent Sino-US confrontations in the South China Sea, it's no surprise there are
concerns that China's interests can be affected if the US decides to involve deeper in the
The Wen Wei Po argues, "The US already has two strategic island chains in the Pacific,
not including Cam Ranh Bay. Once the US successfully leases it, the chain of islands will
However, David Brewster, from Australian National University's Strategic and Defence
Studies Centre, said it was "extremely unlikely" that either Vietnam or the US would
want such a deal.
"It is very unlikely Vietnam would play its major strategic trump card in this manner in
the current security environment."
"Such a move would have major repercussions for both Vietnam and the United States
and it is difficult to see why either would make that move," he told the BBC.
Iskander Rehman, a PhD student at the CERI (Centre d'Etudes et de Recherches
Internationales) in Paris, concurred that there are major obstacles to the realization of a
permanent US military presence in Cam Ranh.
"Many in Vietnamís defence establishment fear any prolonged American presence could
be viewed by the Chinese as a Ďcasus belli and jeopardise the entire painstaking process of
Sino-Vietnamese normalisation," he said.
According to Prof. Carlyle Thayer, a professor at the Australian Defence Force Academy,
the Americans are interested in "places rather than bases", given the public backlash they
saw in countries like South Korea.
Although Cam Ranh Bay is deemed by many to be the finest natural deep sea port in
Southeast Asia, Thayer, a veteran Vietnam watcher, said the military facilities there had
been left to run down from the Soviet time.
"It would take millions of dollars to bring the facilities up to international standards," he
The latest briefing paper by the Washington D.C.-based Jamestown Foundation noted a
recommendation by General Zhang Li, former deputy chief of the General Staff of the
People's Liberation Army (PLA), to build an airport and seaport in the Spratly Islands.
General Zhang Li claimed that China only has eight operational naval vessels deployable
to the region, which means its response capacity in the South China Sea is limited.
Russell Hsiao, the analyst at the Foundation, saw this as a likely signal that China is
increasingly willing to use force in resolving territorial disputes.
A recent report that Vietnam had signed a $1.8 billion deal with Russia for six Kilo-class
submarines was seen by many in China as a tough message to Beijing.
Of course, Vietnam alone is no match for China, and as a Hong Kong paper said,
"Vietnam's main strategy is to internationalize the South China Sea issue, attracting
Western powers to counter China".
Vietnam's trump card?
To a certain extent, Cam Ranh seems to be an asset Vietnam can promise to interested
Dr. David Scott, a professor at Brunel University who has written a trilogy on China,
noted Cam Ranh's role was a striking one.
"Vietnam has been careful not to antagonise China too far, but remains ready to dangle
Cam Ranh Bay access as a military and also commercial carrot, amidst rising friction in
the South China Sea," he said.
India, China's likely rival in the region, has shown some interest in Cam Ranh Bay.
In its so-called String of Pearls strategy, China has constructed lots of ports in Asia,
including many countries which don't have easy relationships with India.
Beijing financed a port complex for Pakistan in Gwadar, resulting in India's concern that
there was a concerted attempt to neutralize its influence in South Asia.
China also reportedly helped Burma construct several naval facilities on the Bay of
Bengal, which may be upgraded for military purposes.
Last year, for the first time a Chinese warship visited Cambodia and some believe that
Beijing managed to secure access to Cambodia's ports.
Therefore some hawkish analysts in India are advocating closer ties with Vietnam and a
bigger presence in South East Asia.
But Walter Ladwig, a doctoral student at Oxford University, argued the capabilities of
India's navy, though steadily expanding, have not caught up with their ambition.
"It would be hard to envision, in the near-term, that Indian ships could be based in
Vietnam. The Indian Navy could not secure the sea-lines of communication (SLOC) so
far from home and so close to China," he noted.
David Brewster said some sections of India's security establishment would like to see
their country having a maritime security role in the South China Sea, largely in response
to the growth of China's capabilities in the Indian Ocean.
But he said "this seems quite unrealistic in light of India's limited naval capabilities and
India's lack of real interests in the South China Sea".
In a more realistic scenario, according to Prof. Carlyle Thayer, Vietnam will be
transformed into "a transit point" for foreign warships.
Many warships - from the US, Russia, India and China - have made port calls in
Vietnam. This indicates there is money to be made for Vietnam if the country can make
better use of its strategic location and infrastructure.
From Vietnam's point of view, the best option seems to open Cam Ranh Bay to private
commerce, while granting military access to other countries on a case-by-case basis,
similar to what happened to the Philippines's Subic Bay.
Iskander Rehman said, "Vietnam can maintain a greater degree of strategic flexibility, if it
can continue to balance the US, India and China by granting berthing rights on a
temporary and conveniently non-committal basis".
There are currently 1 users browsing this thread. (0 members and 1 guests)