Back to Da Nang

While Middle East continues to be the flash-point of the era, South China sea has every potential to become the new area of military conflict. With America siding with its traditional allies like the Philippines and Japan and trying to encircle China by making its strong presence in the Indian Ocean through its much publicised strategic partnership with India, China has no option but to militarise its waters. Hawkish voices are growing louder on both sides of the pacific. South China sea issue is now a major irritant in Sino-US relations. There are even minor confrontations between the two navies. Both America and China seem to be reassessing each other’s plans on a strategic level while paying lip service to solve the dispute through negotiations. If anything it is America’s Asia-Pacific rebalance strategy that is aggravating the situation. The dispute is over a few islands and China calls them Nansha islands and the Japanese prefer to name them in a different way. The crisis dates back to late 1960s when vast oil reserves were discovered in the Nansha waters.

In truth tensions started to build up in 2009 and have escalated since 2012. The contention is, however, over how to exercise sovereignty and rights over the disputed islands and their surrounding waters. As of now the Philippines is the main contender initiating international arbitration which China refuses to acknowledge as legal. The Philippines has actually approached the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea [UNCLOS] for arbitration. But China says the issue of territorial sovereignty is not within the scope of the UNCLOS. In other words the arbitral tribunal has no jurisdiction over it.

As a long-term strategy America is now busy to strengthen military build-ups in the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions. Irony of history is America is all set to utilise Vietnam as its outpost taking advantage of historical animosity between Vietnam and China. It will be a real tragedy for the progressives around the world to see Vietnamese and American armed forces are marching jointly for a mission aimed at encircling China.

50 years after the first United States Marines landed in Vietnam on the beaches of Da Nang, the Pentagon after talks with the Vietnamese authorities, has made a historic return to the port city. To respond to ‘natural disasters’, US military equipment will be stored in Da Nang, a coastal city perched strategically on the South China Sea, which is also where US combat forces first arrived in Vietnam in 1965. The deal between the one-time foes, is also aimed at countering the increasing assertiveness, if not aggressiveness of the Chinese Navy, in the South China Sea. The cautious and sensitive nature of the military engagements between USA and Vietnam, include limits on the number of port visits, and a stress on humanitarian missions. Vietnam has a tortuous past with China, which controlled much of the north of the country for centuries. In recent years, US planes and ships have returned on a semi-permanent basis to the Philippines for the first time, in more than two decades. There is also closer co-operation between USA and Japan. Despite US Congress’ continued concerns about Vietnam’s poor human rights records, Barack Obama’s administration has announced the end of an embargo on selling offensive weapons to Vietnam, which is another symbolic step in normalising relations. Vietnam has not yet committed to buying anti-ship missiles, that would naturally infuriate the Chinese. USA is selling to Vietnam, radars and other equipment, to better monitor the South China Sea. The idea of access to Da Nang has been framed in a way that is less provocative to China, and focuses on ‘disaster relief’. But everybody knows the Uncle Sam is coming in a big way in Vietnam under the banner of ‘disaster relief’.

Vol. 49, No.6, Aug 14 - 20, 2016