Thursday, July 17, 2014


The Nelson Report
July 16, 2014
CHINA PULLING BACK ITS OIL RIG...a "blink", or...?
SUMMARY: did China just "blink" on that oil rig? From the start of the provocative
decision to place a deep-sea oil rig in the heart of Vietnam's EEZ, Beijing sources hinted
that sometime in August it would likely move to another location, its initial explorations
So yesterday's announcement the rig would move a month or more before possibly
expected has spurred speculation that Chinese leaders have heard and absorbed a
lesson from the stink created. Of maybe it was just the weather? Loyal Reader Carl
Thayer, in a longer note on US-Viet arms sales, quoted in full further down:
Today China announced that its mega oil drilling platform HD-981 had completed commercial
operations and was returning to Hainan Island. This should diffuse tensions and open the door for
Hanoi and Beijing to begin high-level discussions. When China first deployed the HD-981 it
announced it would cease operations by August 15. There were two possible reasons for this: to
remove the drilling platform before the typhoon season and to avoid an open ended commitment.
The timing of the current announcement may be linked to Typhoon Rasmussen but more likely the
withdrawal of the platform is designed to diffuse tensions with Vietnam prior to the annual meeting
of the ASEAN Regional Forum.
US ARMS TO VIETNAM? Loyal Reader Carl Thayer writes per last night's Report item by
Pat Cronin and colleague. Lest we forget, Carl is Emeritus Professor, The University of
New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy and Director, Thayer
Dear Chris,
I think some perspective is needed in order to assess the efficacy of lethal U.S. arms sales to
Vietnam. Vietnamese officials have argued for the removal of International Trafficking in Arms
Regulations (ITAR) since at least 2009. Their main motivation was to end what they viewed as
discrimination against Vietnam. There are reports that in recent years Vietnam expressed interest
in coastal radar (Raytheon figured in these reports) and maritime reconnaissance aircraft. It is
uncertain whether Vietnam still retains an interest in these acquisitions.
Richard Fontaine and Patrick Cronin state that Vietnam and the United States "have taken modest
steps to normalize military relations through joint exercises." This is not correct technically. They,
in fact, carry out much lower level maritime engagement activities at Da Nang's Tien Sa port. Joint
military exercises and increased port visits are still on the distant horizon.
Fontaine and Cronin call for the sale of "maritime domain awareness systems, frigates and other
vessels, and anti-ship weapons." While I agree on the first item, the other items in the list cross
into a grey area where frigates, other vessels and anti-ship weapons are both defensive and
offensive. The same would apply to certain types of maritime surveillance aircraft that could be
fitted out with anti-ship and anti-submarine weapons.
Would Vietnam want to buy U.S. frigates and anti-ship missiles? Vietnam has turned to Damen
Shipyards Group of the Netherlands for four modern Sigma-class frigates armed with the new
extended range Exocet missile. Vietnam is already producing Russian anti-ship missiles under
license. I am not sure Vietnam would want to mix and match by adding U.S. weapons and
Vietnam's main deterrence against China will rest on its six enhanced Kilo-class conventional
submarines, the last of which is scheduled for delivery in 2016. The main challenge Vietnam faces
from China is its use of Coast Guard and other paramilitary ships. This challenge can only be met by
strengthening Vietnam's Coast Guard and Fishery Surveillance Force. The U.S. should step up
cooperation between Coast Guards and assist Vietnam in networking its surveillance and
communications assets. So far the U.S. commitment to assisting Vietnam in maritime security has
been limited ($156 million over two years).
For details on the current Vietnam arms situation, see:
"Vietnam's Maritime Forces," Presentation to Conference on Recent Trends in the South China Sea
and U.S. Policy, 4th CSIS Conference on the South China Sea, Center for Strategic and International
Studies Washington, D.C., July 10-11, 2014.
The Power Point slides used in this presentation may be accessed at:
The Nelson Report
July 15, 2014
The Case for U.S. Arms Sales to Vietnam
An overdue policy change in light of rising Chinese assertiveness.
July 15, 2014 1:02 p.m. ET
When Beijing built a deep-sea drilling platform squarely in Vietnam's
exclusive economic zone earlier this summer, it once again flouted
widely accepted rules and sought to extend its reach far into the
South China Sea. Washington and its Asian partners are struggling to
calibrate an appropriate response.
The United States has an interest in resisting Chinese coercion in the
Pacific and in bolstering the open, rules-based regional system that
has permitted Asian economies to flourish. But with China defending
its platform with patrol circles of military, coast guard and fishing
vessels, the danger of escalation is clear. Ramming enemy ships is a
common tactic, and one Vietnamese fishing vessel has already been
sunk. How should the U.S. respond to China's coercive efforts in an
effective and measured way?
One answer lies in relations with Vietnam. Vietnam's capacity to resist
creeping assertions of sovereignty is outmatched by Beijing's superior
might. While Washington and Hanoi have taken modest steps to
normalize military relations through joint exercises and strategic
dialogue, the U.S. should take additional steps to bolster Vietnam's
ability to defend itself. Most importantly, the U.S. should lift the
existing ban on lethal arms sales to Vietnam.
The scope and sort of direct U.S. military support to Vietnam should
be linked to demonstrable improvements in human rights. It should
also be limited to the types of defense articles that are most useful in
deterring external coercion, such as maritime domain awareness
systems, frigates and other vessels, and anti-ship weapons. Given
Hanoi's record of domestic repression, Washington should exclude
from any sales the types of weapons that can be used for domestic
security purposes.
In his recent testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, U.S. ambassador to Vietnam nominee Ted Osius signaled
the administration's willingness to consider lifting the ban on lethal
arms sales to Vietnam. Draft legislation is circulating on Capitol Hill.
The Obama administration could lift the ban on its own, since the
current prohibition is tied to an executive order and not to U.S. law.
Still, a strong endorsement from Congress coupled with action by the
executive branch would represent the strongest form of action.
Lifting the arms ban would help strengthen Vietnam's deterrent
capacity just as it is coming under increased pressure from its
northern neighbor. It naturally follows the Bush administration's 2007
decision to permit the export of non-lethal defense articles to
It would also reinforce other elements of the bilateral relationship,
including U.S. Navy port visits and diplomatic coordination with other
South China Sea claimant states such as Malaysia and the Philippines.
It would not only represent a logical next step in the long path toward
full normalization of ties, but could also serve as a potential catalyst
for Vietnam's further opening.
It's important to link the flow of defense articles to measurable
improvements in Vietnam's human rights record. While the State
Department reports progress in areas such as labor rights and
religious freedom in Vietnam, there are serious deficiencies in political
rights and civil liberties. The provision of particular weapons systems
might be tied to the release of jailed political dissidents, for example,
and to a revision of statues criminalizing political activity.
The strides made by the two countries since normalization of relations
began are extraordinary. Once mortal enemies, they last year
established the U.S.-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership, which aims
to boost maritime capacity and deepen bilateral economic ties.
Vietnam has joined the group of nations negotiating the Trans-Pacific
Partnership trade agreement. Hanoi favors a peaceful resolution of
disputes in the South and East China Seas and closer defense ties with
Meanwhile, China's latest moves off the coast of Vietnam will hardly
be its last. China will continue to dispatch oil rigs, fishing vessels,
maritime and air forces. It will continue to exploit resources, impose
its domestic law, reclaim land features, and make the PRC's brazen
claims to ownership of the South China Sea a reality. The U.S. needs
a more muscular diplomatic approach to imposing costs on bad
behavior. And part of that approach involves working more closely
with Vietnam, one of the few claimant states determined to defend its
In the four decades since the Vietnam War, the two Cold War enemies
have become nascent partners in a strategic environment transformed
by China's rise. The U.S. and Vietnam both seek productive relations
with Beijing as they resist Chinese excesses, but also recognize that
the capacity of self-defense is vital in the face of Chinese
assertiveness. Now is the time for Washington to help Vietnam help
Mr. Fontaine is president of the Center for a New American Security,
where Mr. Cronin is senior advisor and senior director of the Asia-
Pacific Security Program.

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