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NEWS UPDATES 11 August 2010

Vietnam, U.S. in military display

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Vietnam and the United States will demonstrate their military ties at a time of tension with China over territorial claims in the South China Sea. The U.S. destroyer USS John S. McCain, making a call at the central port city of Danang with a crew of around 270 sailors, departs Tuesday for a four-day exchange program with the Vietnamese navy.

The port call will take in sports events and medical and dental projects, according to a statement sent by the American embassy in Hanoi.

A mine countermeasures ship, the USS Avenger, was supposed to make a port call in Danang along with the USS John S. McCain but it had to stay in Japan for "operational reasons," Morley added.

On Sunday, the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, which recently took part in joint military exercises with South Korea, which were denounced by Beijing, already hosted a delegation of Vietnamese military in the waters of the South China Sea off Danang.

The visit by the US Navy vessels, part of official celebrations marking the 15th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between the former enemies, has taken on greater significance due to recent regional friction.

"Tensions in relations between China and the US are much more tense than a year ago and this has spilled over to the South China Sea," said Carl Thayer, a Vietnam expert at the Australian Defense Force Academy in Canberra.

"The US is demonstrating a military presence and Vietnam is letting this occasion speak for itself," he said.

Hanoi normally treads carefully in its relations with its Chinese ideological ally, but the regional ambitions of its large neighbor have stoked a degree of apprehension in Vietnam.

Relations between Hanoi and Washington have come a long way since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 and the normalization of diplomatic relations between the two 20 years later.

The United States has become an important partner of Vietnam, and not only in the commercial sphere.

Lately Hanoi has become particularly "uneasy about Chinese territorial ambitions," a Vietnamese defence ministry source said.

"The presence of American ships in Vietnamese ports has a great strategic significance for Vietnam," which "shows a regional balance in defence matters," he said.

"I think that the United States could play a much more important role in the region," he added.

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