15:42 GMT01 April 2020
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    Washington and Hanoi have signaled a mutual desire to improve relations almost at the exact moment Vietnam has emerged as one of the most outspoken critics of Beijing’s actions in the South China Sea.

    On Tuesday, US Defense Secretary James Mattis met with Vietnamese counterpart Ngo Xuan Lich at the Pentagon where it was announced that an unspecified US aircraft carrier would visit the Southeast Asian nation next year.  "Vietnam and the United States of America respect our pasts, but we look to the future," Mattis said, in reference to the war fought decades ago.

    "The Secretary welcomed Vietnam’s engagement and growing leadership in the Asia-Pacific region," DoD said in a statement.

    Vietnamese and Chinese delegates attending the 50th Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) last weekend cancelled a bilateral meeting that was supposed to be held on the sidelines of the regional conference.

    The two nations have been sparring over ownership rights to an oil field in the South China Sea. Beijing even reportedly threatened to strike Vietnamese positions in the Spratly Islands if Hanoi allowed the Spanish oil firm Repsol to continue drilling. A Chinese Foreign Ministry official ominously confirmed that Beijing had taken "practical actions" to maintain the "positive situation in the South China Sea" but did not disclose the specifics of what the "practical actions" entailed. Hanoi has reportedly called off the oil exploration missions for now. 

    An estimated $3-5 trillion worth of goods transit the strategic waterway per year.

    The Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative wrote on August 4, "Reports suggest that Hanoi recently halted oil and gas drilling in Block 136-03 on Vanguard Bank in response to a Chinese threat of force against Vietnamese outposts in the area. That claim is impossible to verify, but the story highlights the vulnerability of Vietnam’s many smaller installations in and around the Spratly Islands."

    Vietnam has "modestly" expanded its footprint in the South China Sea since 2014, "when relations with Beijing hit a historic low following a standoff over the deployment of a Chinese rig in disputed waters off the Paracel [Islands]," AMTI said.


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    aircraft carrier, Defense Department, ASEAN, Ngo Xuan Lich, James Mattis, South China Sea
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