March 28, 2012
Vietnam builds naval muscle
By The Hanoist
Following a series of high-profile procurement deals, Vietnam’s growing naval program symbolizes its evolving military posture. Driven by persistent maritime disputes with China and facilitated by an expanding economy, Vietnam is actively modernizing its military through naval, air and electronic-fighting capability upgrades.
A decade ago, the Vietnamese navy was equipped with Soviet-era hardware based on technology from the 1960s along with an assortment of American-made vessels seized from South Vietnam at the end of the war. This outdated force was inadequate for patrolling the country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone or maintaining its claims over the Spratly Islands, an expansive archipelago also claimed in whole or part by China, Taiwan and several other Southeast Asian nations.
Dedicating approximately 3% of gross domestic product per annum to defense spending, Vietnam has gone on an armaments spending spree in Russia, the Netherlands and Canada, among others. The military hardware from these big ticket contracts is now beginning to enter service and promises to boost significantly Vietnam’s naval and air power.
November 1, 2010
A revolt of sorts in Vietnam
By The Hanoist
Vietnam’s environmental movement, which rose up last year in opposition to bauxite mining in the Central Highlands, is back. Spurred into action by a toxic spill in Hungary on October 4, more than 2,000 people including many leading citizens have signed a new petition calling on the state to halt its US$15.6 billion plans and so avoid the risk of a similar catastrophe in Vietnam.
In early 2008, the Vietnamese government announced a plan to extract bauxite and process the ore into alumina, an intermediary step in producing aluminum. Critics pointed out the potential devastation to the ecologically sensitive Central Highlands – home to many of Vietnam’s ethnic minorities and cash crops – and the risks of storing vast quantities of toxic sludge, a byproduct of processing alumina, upriver from the densely populated Mekong delta.
Vietnamese academics also questioned the economic cost-benefit due to the project’s large need for electricity, in short supply in the country, and the required construction of a 250 kilometer railway and dedicated port. The plan calls for the alumina, a relatively low-profit commodity, to be exported to a single market, China, leaving Vietnamese industry captive to a powerful buyer. Continue reading
July 29, 2010
Vietnam hedges its China risk
By The Hanoist
As Vietnam and China celebrate an official “Year of Friendship” marking the 60th anniversary of diplomatic ties, Hanoi is quietly pursuing a balance of power plan against its neighbor to the north. The contours of the still evolving strategy consist of developing a common position vis-à-vis China within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), engaging the United States and forging security ties with other key regional powers.
How this approach unfolds, however, will depend as much on domestic Vietnamese politics as the interests of the individual countries involved. Hanoi has used its chairmanship of the 10-member ASEAN to put territorial disputes in the South China Sea on the grouping’s agenda. China and ASEAN signed a non-binding code of conduct in 2002 and since then Beijing has sought to resolve differences through bilateral negotiations, where one-on-one it often dominates the other side. Continue reading
April 24, 2010
Vietnam’s guarded US embrace
By The Hanoist
Fifteen years after normalizing diplomatic relations, military cooperation between the United States and Vietnam is evolving bit by bit.
Both sides would like to counter China‘s military buildup and historic desire to dominate the region – including the strategic South China Sea where a quarter of the world’s trade transits and where Vietnam, China and other countries contest two island chains believed to contain rich mineral deposits.
While US motives are relatively clear – to deepen contacts with the Vietnamese military and establish areas of cooperation – the Hanoi side is often tied up in knots on how and whether to partner strategically with Washington, its former war adversary. Continue reading