SAWT BEIRUT INTERNATIONAL

| 13 April 2024, Saturday |

US defence chief visits Vietnam to shore up support in Asia

United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who is visiting Vietnam, is scheduled to hold meetings with his counterpart, Phan Văn Giang, as well as with Vietnam’s President  Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh on Thursday.

Earlier on in the day, he made a stop at the site where the late US Senator John McCain’s plane was shot down in 1967. McCain, the 2008 Republican nominee for president, was a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

Since the Vietnam War, ties between Washington and Hanoi have been slowly deepening as both countries watch Beijing’s activities in the South China Sea with growing alarm.

Vietnam has emerged as the most vocal opponent of China’s territorial claims and has received US military hardware, including coastguard ships.

Lieutenant General Vu Chien Thang, the director of the Defence Ministry’s Foreign Relations Department, said the coronavirus and measures to “enhance maritime law enforcement capability” would be discussed.

“[Vietnam] wants to know that the US is going to remain engaged militarily, it’s going to continue its presence in the South China Sea,” Greg Poling, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the Reuters news agency.

On Wednesday, a US Navy warship transited through the Taiwan Strait, angering Beijing.

Before arriving in Hanoi, Austin also made a stop in Singapore, his first in the region since joining the administration of US President Joe Biden.

In a speech in Singapore, he said that the US is committed to pursuing a constructive, stable relationship with China, including stronger crisis communications with the People’s Liberation Army.

But he repeated that Beijing’s claim  to virtually the entire South China Sea had “no basis in international law” and “treads on the sovereignty of states in the region”.

China claims almost the entire resource-rich sea, through which trillions of dollars in shipping trade passes annually, with overlapping claims from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

In response to Austin’s statement, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the US had “deliberately smeared China” and “interfered in China’s internal affairs”.

While in Hanoi, the defence chief is also expected to sign a “memorandum of understanding” for Harvard and Texas Tech University to create a database that would help the Vietnamese search for those missing from the war, a senior US defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters.

Austin’s visit comes as Vietnam is in the grip of a coronavirus surge, with Hanoi and half the country in lockdown.

On Sunday, the US shipped three million doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Vietnam, raising the amount it gave via the global COVAX vaccine scheme to five million doses.

    Source:
  • Aljazeera