U.S.-Vietnam defense cooperation is growing. In a recent meeting, U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Vietnamese Defense Minister Ngo Xuan Lich discussed further steps in their mutual defense relationship and regional security issues, including freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
Notably, both leaders agreed to work toward a first-time visit of a U.S. aircraft carrier to Vietnam to expand naval cooperation. It would be the first such visit since the Vietnam War ended in 1975. President Donald Trump discussed the possibility of a carrier visit with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc when they met at the White House in May.
Defense cooperation between the United States and Vietnam are increasingly important for enhancing regional and global security in the Asia-Pacific region, said the Pentagon in a press release. The U.S. recently transferred a former Coast Guard cutter to Vietnam to help the country improve its maritime law-enforcement capabilities, according to the Pentagon.
The United States and Vietnam have found common ground in recent years over China’s provocative claims and actions in the South China Sea. China, Vietnam, and other Southeast Asian countries have competing claims to islands in the area, as well as maritime areas and the natural resources within them, including fish and potentially oil and gas reserves.
While the U.S. takes no position on sovereignty claims over any part of the South China Sea, the U.S. has a national interest in respect for international law, including freedom of navigation and other lawful uses of the sea. There are concerns that China could eventually seek to dictate, in a manner inconsistent with international law, which vessels would be allowed to sail or fly there.
U.S. forces operate in the Asia-Pacific region on a daily basis, including in the South China Sea. All operations are conducted in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows.
The US-Vietnam relationship will continue to be built on common security interests, including freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. Secretary Mattis welcomes Vietnam's engagement and growing leadership in the Asia-Pacific region.