Japan’s Foreign Minister announced Friday that his country will present Vietnam with six coast guard vessels to help the Southeast Asian nation boost its coastal patrol capabilities and combat China’s growing belligerence in the South China Sea. The relationship between Vietnam and China is at its lowest level in decades, and Hanoi has been cozying up to Tokyo as both countries seek allies in the escalating standoff against Beijing.The ships are not brand new or as large as some of the other ships in the Vietnam Coast Guard’s fleet, but they will certainly be useful as Hanoi seeks to catch up with China’s much larger (and expanding) coastal defense armada.
The announcement of the deal came just a day after sixty prominent members of the Vietnamese Communist Party—including past advisers to the Prime Minister and former deputy ministers, economists, and government advisors—sent a letter admonishing the government for its close historical ties to China. Vietnam must ”escape” China’s clutches, the letter reads, and is ”paying a high price” for those ties. Indeed, “The more Vietnam makes…concessions, the more China dominates.” The letter also urged Hanoi to sue China at the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea, which the Philippines is already doing. The letter is a serious and remarkable escalation, as it comes from within Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party.
Reuters reports that, none of these new developments withstanding, ”China is not showing any sign of easing off on its maritime push. It will hold live-fire drills for five days from Tuesday off its coast in the East China Sea opposite Japan and in the Gulf of Tonkin, which borders both China and Vietnam.”
Faced with such flagrantly aggressive behavior in disputed marine territory, Vietnam, Japan, the Philippines, and other south and east Asian countries have little choice but to cooperate to balance Beijing. They could use some help, maybe, from the U.S. Remember the ”Pivot to Asia?” What happened to that?