04:24 GMT +317 December 2018
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    The Varshavianka-class diesel-electric submarine built for the Vietnamese Navy at the shipyard in Svetly.

    How Vietnam Became the Pressure Point of Obama's 'Pivot to Asia'

    © Sputnik / Igor Zarembo
    Asia & Pacific
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    In recent weeks, Vietnam has been thrust into the middle of the United States' growing confrontation with China in the South China Sea. We look at the timeline of events and how a fabricated "Vietnam Threat" has been conceived to counter what the US sees as the "China Threat."

    In recent weeks, Vietnam's role in the South China Sea has grown in prominence, as the US-China standoff in the South China Sea intensifies. As of Sunday, multiple publications, including the National Interest, have published articles about Vietnam's growing "killer" submarine capabilities, which are amped up as a "threat" and a "nightmare" to China. However, the rising tide of media attention to the prospects of a China-Vietnam confrontation is only part of a narrative that sees Vietnam courted into the US sphere of influence as part of a strategy to isolate and encircle China that began earlier in March.

    March 11. US Army Commander Pressures Vietnam Into Blocking Russian Access to Cam Ranh Bay

    Confrontation between the US and China rapidly escalated after March 11, when US Army Pacific Commander, General Vincent Brooks demanded that Vietnam stops allowing Russian refueling jets to land in its Cam Ranh Bay military base. Accusing Russia of "provocative flights" in the area, the commander said that it was "acting as a spoiler to our interests and the interests of others."

    However, Russia and Vietnam have a close relationship around the base, which was leased by Russia between 1979 and 2002, showing that Vietnam sees it as a crucial part of it security.

    March 12. Vietnam Rebukes US Demands on Cam Ranh Bay, Crucial to Vietnam's Security

    Vietnam's military furiously rejected the demand, calling it "interference in the internal affairs of Vietnam, a sovereign state which determines its own policies for cooperating with its friends and partners." Much more important than stopping Russian strategic bomber flights, however, the decision to boot out Russian presence at the base would mean creating a significant impediment to Russian-Vietnamese cooperation in the area.

    The strategic deep-sea Cam Ranh Bay base is crucial for Vietnam, as it is the center of the Vietnamese Navy's 3rd Regional Command, which is responsible for Vietnam's claims in the disputed Spratly Islands. In addition, Russia has been supplying Varshavyanka-class (Improved Kilo) submarines to Vietnam, which are stationed at Cam Ranh Bay. So far, three have been supplied, with the latest one arriving on January 28, and another three are are on order.

    March 14. Vietnam  Affirms Commitment to Strategic Partnership With China

    Vietnam's recent military buildup, particularly its purchases of Russian submarines, is often credited to a growing confrontation with China, which had several military conflicts with the country since 1979. However, China seeks a constructive approach toward Vietnam, and has conducted joint patrols for the past 10 years in the Beibu Gulf, an oil-rich area that is disputed between China and Vietnam.

    In addition to the joint patrols, a February 13 phone conversation between Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi and Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh established an outline for strategic cooperative partnership. The plan was unanimously affirmed on March 14, during the fourth consultation of the Working Group for Consultation on China-Vietnam Joint Maritime Development.

    March 20. US Navy Commander Intervenes in South China Sea Affairs, "Kibitzing" Joint Patrols

    The US meddling in the South China Sea did not end with an attempt to derail Russia-Vietnam relations. On March 20, Commander of the US Navy 7th Fleet, Vice Admiral Robert Thomas spoke at the ASEAN naval leaders meeting, and said that the US would support multinational patrols in the South China Sea.

    "Uncle Sam has long been in the grip of many addictions, such as muscle-flexing, preaching and borrowing, but there has turned out to be one more: kibitzing," China's state news agency Xinhua responded in an editorial.

    Accusing the US of double-dealing and machinations, China was understandably furious at the proposal, which would essentially nullify its agreements with Vietnam. According to Chinese military analysts, bringing in other countries which have claims to the islands, such as the Philippines, which China has escalated tensions with in recent days, as well as old-time rival Japan.

    Today. Vietnam in the Middle

    The final goal of the US pressure on Vietnam and intervention in the South China Sea dispute has been part of what Chinese military analysts see as a three-ring strategy that intends to encircle China in the Pacific. The goal emerged with the publication of the revised US maritime strategy on March 13, which seeks "all domain access" amid increasing political pressure to "counter China" in the Pacific.

    The revised strategy has been rebuked by the Chinese military as an attempt to restrict China in the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea based on the exaggeration of the "China threat." However, an accompaniment to the strategy seems to have been attempts to isolate Vietnam from Russia and its arms supplies, which allow Vietnam to retain independent influence, as well as to put a wedge into China and Vietnam's decades-long efforts to repair relations.

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    Tags:
    military buildup, submarine, maritime strategy, Varshavianka-class submarine, Vietnamese Navy, Chinese Navy, US Army, US Navy, Robert Thomas, Vincent Brooks, Spratly Islands, China, Vietnam, United States, Russia
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