Skip to comments.Growing Ties with Hanoi May Draw U.S. Deeper into South China Sea Dispute
Posted on 07/29/2012 12:51:30 AM PDT by tsowellfan
During his visit to Vietnam in early June, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta displayed eagerness to have the U.S. military return to the bases it once occupied at Cam Ranh Bay. The Pentagon lost its foothold there when South Vietnam fell to communist forces in the mid-1970s, and military officials have longed to regain access. Once Washington established diplomatic relations with Hanoi in 1995, that objective seemed to be an attainable goal rather than a hopeless wish.
The Vietnamese government, worried about Chinas growing power in the region, may now be receptive to a renewed U.S. military presence at Cam Ranh Bay. The Obama administration for its part seems to view rapprochement with Hanoi as a key component of the U.S. strategic pivot to East Asiaand as part of an implicit containment policy directed against China.
There is some danger for the United States, however, in basing improved relations with Vietnam on enhanced military cooperation. In particular, the return of U.S. air and naval units to Cam Ranh Bay is likely not only to antagonize Beijing, but may well draw the United States deeper into the territorial dispute between China and several of its Southeast Asian neighbors regarding the South China Sea.
Washington has already displayed an inclination to involve itself in the controversy, despite repeated protestations of neutrality. China, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Taiwan all have made claims to various rights in the South China Sea. Chinas claims are especially broad, asserting an exclusive economic zone that covers well over half of the area. U.S. officials worry that such a vast exclusive economic zone would be a half-way house to converting the South China Sea from international waters to Chinese territorial waters.
That move would have major economic implications. Experts believe that there are extensive oil and gas reserves (and possible valuable mineral deposits as well) throughout the area. Beijings position also has important strategic implications. Many of the crucial oceanic routes leading to Japan, South Korea, and other countries in East Asia run through the South China Sea. Chinese control of that body of water would give Beijing a grip on the economic jugulars of all of those nations and might cause Washingtons East Asian allies to reassess the wisdom of having close ties to the United States.
As the worlds leading maritime power, the United States is concerned about the territorial dispute. In July 2010, the Obama administration injected itself into the controversy when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed a meeting of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). In that speech, Clinton emphasized that Washington had an interest in the issues at stake and proposed a collective regional solution that included a U.S. mediation role. Chinese officials interpreted her comments as a tilt against Beijings stance, and the Foreign Ministry curtly responded that any U.S. involvement in the dispute, in a mediation role or otherwise, was most unwelcome.
Washington has not backed off, however, and over the past year, appeared to adopt a distinct preference for the claims made by the Philippines. While attending an economic summit in Bali in November 2011, President Obama went out of his way to emphasize the importance of the U.S. defense alliance with the Philippines and pledged to strengthen the relationship. His comment followed a blunt statement from Secretary Clinton regarding the rival claims in the South China Sea. Any nation with a claim has a right to exert it, Clinton stated during a visit to Manila on November 16, but they do not have a right to pursue it through intimidation or coercion. She added that the United States will always be in the corner of the Philippines and we will stand and fight with you. The Obama administration backed up that rhetoric in early 2012 with a decision to deploy additional troops to that country.
President Benigno Aquinos recent actions, though, have weakened the incentive for Washington to support Manilas position. In particular, Aquinos decision in mid-June to withdraw ships that had established a presence around Scarborough Shoal suggested that he had no stomach for waging a feud with China. Although the ostensible reason for the withdrawal was bad weather, the growing presence of some 28 Chinese naval vessels likely played a role in the retreat.
Manila always seemed a poor choice for Washington to back in a controversy with China. The Philippines lack the economic strength, the military capability, and perhaps most important, the determination to engage in such a contest. Even before Manilas humbling retreat in Junewhich drew immediate praise from BeijingWashington may have been looking for an alternative candidate to stand up to China.
Vietnam is the logical candidate. There has never been any love lost between Hanoi and Beijing, even during the Cold War when the two countries were supposedly the closest of allies. The long-time historical animosity surfaced with great clarity in the late 1970s when Chinese forces invaded Vietnamand found the task far more daunting than anticipated.
More recently, Vietnam and China had a nasty confrontation in the South China Sea itself. In June 2011, Chinese officials accused Vietnam of gravely violating Chinas sovereignty and maritime rights when a Chinese fishing boat became entangled in cables from a Vietnamese ship that was conducting seismic surveys. Beijings protest followed Hanois accusation that the fishing trawlers had deliberately harassed the survey vessel and interfered with its work by trying to use a cable-cutting device.
Washington needs to be careful about involving itself in the South China Sea controversy on behalf of Vietnam or any other claimant. The Chinese are very sensitive about the matter, and U.S. backing of Vietnam would likely be deemed even more provocative than supporting the Philippines. In the latter case, U.S. leaders at least had the fig leaf of the Cold War era formal defense treaty with Manila. Establishing a de facto military partnership with Hanoi, especially if it is followed by greater U.S. diplomatic support for Vietnams claims regarding the South China Sea, could do major damage to Americas crucial relationship with China. Although Washington has some legitimate interests in wanting to preserve unimpeded international access to waters in the region, that is too high a price to pay. Greater caution is needed regarding the ongoing rapprochement with Hanoi.
Leon Panetta is a traitor or he would NOT be in this administration...
Evidently these are the two considerations which prompt America to commit itself to bases in the Philippines and Vietnam. The reasons seem to be: 1) oil, gas, minerals, and 2) control of sea lanes à la Admiral Mahan's Elements of Seapower.
As to the first, the US now has a century worth of oil and gas contained within its own borders. We are a mineral rich country-apart evidently from some rare Earths. We take no steps for barring the Chinese from investing in our own extraction industries, indeed we solicit their participation. The Chinese are on a real worldwide hunt for minerals and are investing everywhere, for example, in Chilean copper companies, and African oil companies. Why are the minerals and carbons located in the South China Sea of importance to us when those located elsewhere are not?
As to the second, we were entirely prepared as the official policy of the United States government to turn over one of the most important sea lanes in the world, control of the Panama Canal, to the Chinese. Without resorting to relativism to make an argument (i.e. to justify one evil by reference to another) why do we think that we need to confront the Chinese in their backyard to protect sea lanes when there are reasons to believe that if the Chinese deny free passage in the China Sea we have far greater problems than can be isolated to that area. Should we not be far more concerned about our relative power to wage war from space?
We should ask ourselveshim him him him him him what it is we get out of our bases exposing 38,000 American troops in Korea? What do we get out of our support of Taiwan? What do we get out of our support of Israel? Do we want more of the same? If we do, where will we get the money to do it? Are we considering the risk? Have we made a cost-benefit analysis?
We will be vulnerable to "mission creep" in that our mere presence in the area means that we will be far more likely to confront China when our interests might not be at stake or our advantage not clear, or our resources too attenuated.
We would do well to look at Imperial Britain and proceed by understanding the balance of forces in the area and acting to balance against the predominant power when it is in our interest. That does not imply substituting our own resources for those of local nation states nor does it imply reflexive hostility to the dominant power which, of course, is the Chinese. It implies that we arrange the chess pieces on the board according to our own national interests and not mindlessly or reflexively out of hostility and certainly not as the pawns of other players.
Why should we back the Vietnamese? They beat us in the war—they are the mouse that roared—let them handle Red China all by themselves! lets see how they like the Boys from Peking. We should support our new Chinese Friends over our old boastful enemies. Maybe they could get a peace movement going in China? maybe Jackie Chan will visit Hanoi and pose on an Anti-Aircraft gun shooting at Chinese warplanes? (I don’t think so). let the Vietnamese ROT! If they are too arrogant to not tick off their huge and vicious northern neighbor let they pay the price. A real war with China will show them what real war is like—no safety zones—no POWs—it will be a grim take-no-prisoners fight and I think the cards are stacked in favor of China.
[ Why should we back the Vietnamese? ]
BECAUSE.... the White House, a good part of the House and most of the Senate, some of the Supremes are in agreement with their(communism) ideology..
PLUS; most of federal, state, and local givernment workers.. much of the Police, Firefighters, Teachers are socialists, not a far jump from socialism to communism...
BECAUSE; communism “IS” socialism.....
The Chinese did invade Vietnam in 1979, only to pull back two months later after suffering heavy casualties, so that already happened, and they are unlikely to repeat the mistake. In any case, it would be a mistake to let the past dominate the present. China needs to be contained, and this consideration ought to come before trying to get some kind of self-gratifying revenge over events that happened 40 years ago.
I read in another article that the Russians are also interested in expanding their navy into Cam Ranh Bay.
Vietnam beat America? Excuse me, but America bugged out as a result of a decade of political paralysis. They got tired of a war of attrition, funded by the Soviets, which destroyed the morale of a heavily conscripted American military. Perhaps I missed the battle where an American force surrendered. The bulk of the American military had left Vietnam two years prior to the collapse of the huge, well armed, but highly ineffective South Vietnamese army.
Poorly armed. The Democrats withdrew our pledged support, ignored the Paris Peace Accord, and turned Vietnam over to the communists. What happened in SEA is a direct result of policies of the Democrats.
Now they’re bringing the Economics of Cook County to America.
Just prior to the attack, China sent nearly 2 million troops to their border with USSR. This pretty much proves their intentions in Vietnam. Just kicking the dog so to speak. USSR did not come to Vietnam's aid. Viets got pissed.
Vietnam kept most of their troops near Hanoi. China looted/pillaged the border areas of Vietnam as they withdrew.
It is interesting to note that China supported the Mujahideen of Afghanistan in their fight against the Soviets. Trained the Muj in China proper and armed them as well.
“Vietnam beat America? Excuse me, but America bugged out as a result of a decade of political paralysis.”
Yes, I sorta agree. I see it as the first war the Democrats won, so in essence the US traitors did win with the RINO’s doing their typical part by doing nothing to stop it. So yes, with the Dems and RINO’s taking the commie side, the US traitors did win. I believe the second win was Nicaragua, as I believe Daniel Ortega is still in charge.
Any time the republicans are either too spineless or too elite to stand up to the rats, then there is no difference between them, both have been traitors to our country since the 60’s and nothing has changed to this day.
The last US Division pulled out of Vietnam in late 1971. Difficult to blame US Troops for losing a war when they weren’t even there...
Nothing wrong with playing regional power politics with China by using Vietnam (I’m a Vietnam vet FWIW). Most of the Vietnamese who fought us are dead, except for a few Ho Chi Minh cronies (Vo Nguyen Giap is well into his nineties). They have long been succeeded by a younger generation with no memory of the 1945-75 war and who are eager to build relations with the United States, if for no other reason than to have us counterbalance the Chinese.
Anti-Americanism in Vietnam is a nearly forgotten hiccup in their three thousand year national history. But during that entire period China has been their most hated enemy, and the PRC’s current burgeoning military & economic power won’t serve to diminish that profound animus.
As noted, the Chinese attempted to invade Vietnam in 1979 and got bloodied for it. Their ability to project power in the Pacific Rim has yet to be demonstrated; they are much more successful in suppressing domestic insurgencies.
Communism in Vietnam is similar to communism in China, an excuse for the ruling elite to hold onto political power. That indicates that they will not reject Realpolitik in order to serve their national interests. Vietnam is not Cuba nor North Korea; those two are ruled by fanatical Stalinists.
There’s room for pragmatic interaction with the Vietnamese, they’re not stupid.
Don’t forget the Cambodians, Laotians and numerous indigenous people as well. Socialism and death go hand in hand for a reason.
Good analysis and I’d add that China isn’t as stable as it appears. A war or international event is just as risky to the Chinese ruling elite as it is to the small powers surrounding China.
The Chinese elite have a great position that they don’t want to destabilize, yet millions of dollars earned by them go overseas as quickly as possible. Why is that?
And we wonder why other countries hate Americans.Damn Democrats have poisioned the well of world public opinion.
If you don't think political considerations and the will of the people are the major drivers and aspects of war then you have little understanding of what war is. This is all basic Sun Tzu/Machiavelli/van Crevald stuff.
Very well said.
We had stopped arming the RVN, so they were not well-armed. While they had plenty of ineffectiveness issues, if we had supported them half as well as the Soviets continued supporting NV, they might have held on. At the end, they had squat in the way of logistics to support the arms we had left behind for them. No bullets/shells/bombs means the arms were worthless.
The North Vietnamese took out a massive loan from the Soviets to purchase the arms needed for the invasion in 1975. If we had provided a similar loan to South Vietnam, they might have held on. But Congress cut off all aid, including loans, to make sure that North Vietnam would win. Just how big was the loan? The Vietnamese hadn't paid it off 20 years later. They settled up with the Russians for lease payments the Russians hadn't been making for the Cam Ranh Bay facilities.
And the Left really doesn’t like talking about that, nor about the way the friendly communists brutalized the people of the South and opened the way for the Killing Fields of Cambodia.
The outcome of battles during a war is not important, except for the strategic advantage that might be gained from a victory. Remember that the Spartans technically lost the battle of Thermopylae even though the fact they fought the battle held up the Persians long enough for the Greeks to rally and eventually win the war.
The US lost the Vietnam war, not because they were defeated militarily, but because they were defeated politically by internal defeatists who took their inspiration from demoralizing pro-communist propaganda (do a youtube search for Yuri Bezmenov for more on the subject of the effects and aims of communist propaganda).
America must be the only country in the world to have lost a war as the result of a resounding military victory when they crushed the Tet Offensive, which was erroneously reported as an American military defeat by the likes of Cronkite and other liberal journalists...
Pretty much agree with everything you said there.
Thanks! Permit me to plug the only book on the Vietnam War which adequately describes our final year on the ground:
“Trial By Fire, The 1972 Easter Offensive, America’s Last Vietnam Battle”, Dale Andrade, Hippocrene Books, New York, 1995.
I bought this book for my Dad who was there the same timeframe as me, 1971-72. He knew the big picture, I was just a Huey driver. Didn’t know how huge the communist attack was until I read the book. You kind of focus on your mission at the time.
Cheers, I might check that out on amazon.