Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta met Vietnamese Defense Minister General Phung Quang Thanh

1)     Growing maturity in the relationship between the U.S. and Vietnam

Secretary Leon Penatta and VN Defense Minister General Phung Quang Thanh

Secretary Leon Penatta and VN Defense Minister General Phung Quang Thanh (Photo: US DOD)

On 6/4, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta met his counterpart in Vietnam, General Phung Quang Thanh—Vietnamese Defense Minister.

They discussed the progress that has been made in the 17 years since the 2 countries normalized the diplomatic relations—a relationship that was based on mutual trust and understanding, per Secretary Panetta.

(But of course, they don’t bring the 2 defense chiefs to just simply talk about diplomatic relationship between the countries.)

From a news article posted on the U.S. defense government web site, the two men also discussed the memo on the understanding of defense cooperation signed last year between the 2 countries. The memo presents the areas where the 2 countries can work together, and has been successful over the past year—per General Thanh.

(But here comes the important agreements…)

Secretary Panetta and Minister Thanh agreed to expand cooperation in the 5 key areas:

–high level dialogues between the 2 countries

–maritime security: they shared views on how the U.S. can work with other ASEAN countries to try to improve the maritime rights of all nations

–search and rescue operations

–peacekeeping operations

–humanitarian assistance and disaster relief

Secretary Panetta also noted the importance of establishing an Office of Defense Cooperation to enhance cooperation in these areas. It also signaled the U.S.’s enduring commitment to the defense relationship between the countries.

“Our continued progress in this area — as well as other legacies of war — reflects … the growing maturity of the relationship between the United States and Vietnam,” Panetta said

2)     Vietnam called for a lift on the ban of selling weapons and other lethal military equipments

General Thanh said the U.S. could continue to send supply and other unarmed U.S. ships to Cam Ranh Bay—an important port in the East Sea that the U.S. would like to use for its warships.

General Thanh called on the U.S. to lift the ban of selling military weapons and equipments as an implication that his leaders will be more willing to consider for more U.S. ships to Cam Ranh Bay. The General expressed that selling weapons “would benefit the 2 countries and help fully normalize relations”.

The U.S. currently provides small amounts of non-military aid to Vietnam every year. “Obviously additional assistance will depend in part on progress that’s being made on human rights and on other reform,” Panetta said. And so will be the lift on the ban of weapon sales to Vietnam.

3)     Vietnam is cautiously moving closer to the U.S.

With neighbor China watching closely, Vietnam may be cautiously moving closer to the U.S. inch by inch.

More than anyone, Vietnam remembers well how the U.S. abandoned its ally—The Republic of South Vietnam—in 1975. That will be a risk Vietnam has to take if it chooses to be close to the U.S. while upsetting China at the same time.

On the other hand, Vietnam asks for the lift of the ban on weapon sales to arm itself with some decent ways of self-defense against China—one must wonder if this is its backup plan should the new relationship with the U.S. does not work out or if the U.S’s plan of deploying more ships to the Asia-Pacific will not fully work due to defense cuts in the future.

One must think that these are the important steps on perhaps a new relationship between Vietnam and the U.S. How important are they to Vietnam? Not only Secretary Panetta met with his counterpart, General Thanh, he also met Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh.

Ch3 Nguyen

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