Vietnam, India Boost Naval Ties to Counter China

Even as Vietnam and China continue to conduct tit-for-tat naval
maneuvers in the South China Sea, Hanoi has started making direct calls
for foreign involvement in the two nations’ maritime territorial
dispute. While many commentators saw this as a thinly veiled invitation
to the United States, it could also be a precursor to India establishing
a permanent presence in Vietnamese waters. India has apparently
responded favorably to Vietnam’s offer of permanent berthing rights in
Na Thrang port. The move would not only add military heft to India’s
“Look East” policy, but is also emblematic of a larger Indian effort to
counter China’s activities in South Asia.

Although Vietnam more than held its own in its 1979 border war with
China, its record against the latter at sea is less impressive, as
incidents in both 1974 and 1988 show. Even in 1979, Chinese naval action
against Vietnam was only checked by the presence of Soviet ships. Since
then the asymmetry in naval power between China and Vietnam has grown
exponentially in the former’s favor, while Hanoi has lost its Soviet-era
security guarantees. Although Vietnam’s decision to hold live naval
drills in the wake of the cable-cutting incident in mid-June was seen as
a show of resolve, it did little to temper ongoing Chinese surveys in
disputed areas.

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