Britain & Vietnam cozy up on defense amid deepening South China Sea dispute

Special forces soldiers march during a rehearsal for a military parade as part of the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, in southern Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon City), Vietnam © Nguyen Huy Kham
Britain and Vietnam are building fresh ties after their respective defense ministers quietly met to discuss future cooperation. The move comes as Vietnam scopes out potential new allies to strengthen its hand against China.

The meeting also comes as the Southeast Asian state is working on establishing warm relations with another Asian giant, India, and receiving direct military support from Japan at a time when its relations with China are at a particularly low ebb.

Although barely reported on in the UK press, Ministry of Defence (MoD) minister Earl Howe met with Vietnam’s Deputy Defense Minister Nguyen Chi Vinh before a conference on UN peacekeeping in London on Thursday.

The two nations had recalibrated their relations with a strategic pact six years ago. Vinh suggested that the UK consider helping Vietnam deal with the enduring consequences of the US war in Vietnam and offered to act as a conduit for the UK in the region.

The officials reportedly also discussed future defense cooperation and hydrography and agreed that national disputes should be dealt with peacefully.

The meeting followed on a similar one that was held in Vietnam in early June, in which Defence Secretary Michael Fallon was told by Vinh that his country supports the UK taking up an observer role in future conferences of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) defense ministers.

Fallon, in turn, promised that Vietnamese troops would be able to train in the UK.

Vietnam is currently engaged in a stand-off with China over its island building in the South China Sea. The Hague recently ruled that by building what are effectively military outposts in the region of the Spratly Islands, China is violating international law.

Besides the goodwill of India and attempts to nurture goodwill from the UK, Vietnam recently received a pledge from Japan to provide it with patrol ships to better conduct maritime law enforcement operations.

In April, UK military chiefs were handed an £800 million budget boost as they were considering creating new bases in the former British protectorate of Oman and beyond in order to re-establish British power east of the Suez Canal.

In a statement, Fallon lauded his department’s £35.1-billion budget windfall – its first increase in six years.

Nothing is more important than defending our country and protecting our people,” said Fallon.

With increasing threats to our security, we have chosen to increase defense spending and give our Armed Forces what they need to keep Britain safe.