Vietnam is not included in the list of 10 countries participating in this year’s Rim of Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC) in Hawaii, although it was invited by the US.
RIMPAC, the largest international naval exercise in the world organized by the US every two years, has started in Honolulu, Hawaii. With the leadership of the US, this exercise includes navies of Pacific Rim countries with the aim of promoting regional stability and cooperation.
It is noteworthy that RIMPAC 2020 lacks the participation of several Southeast Asian countries, including Vietnam.
The Hanoi government has not yet announced the reason for not attending RIMPAC – the exercise will only take place at sea from August 17 to 31 and there are no onshore events due to Corona virus concerns.
The US Navy in May personally confirmed to VOA Vietnamese bulletin that Vietnam was one of the 25 countries invited to the biennial naval exercise.
However, Vietnam was not on the list of 10 countries, who are considered the most important allies of the US deciding to join the event in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to spread.
Two years ago, the Vietnamese Ministry of Defense sent eight staff officers but did not send warships to the RIMPAC 2018.
According to the US Navy, the international naval exercise is aimed at “promoting and maintaining cooperative relationships that are vital to ensuring the safety and security of sea lanes for free and open Indian and Pacific Oceans.”
The force added that the exercise taking place in waters around islands in Hawaii was “a unique platform for strengthening interoperability and strategic maritime partnerships.”
Denying the US, but Vietnam confirmed that it will join the Army Games 2020 Military Sports in Russia. China also participates in this event.
Vietnam and China will participate in Army Games 2020 and Army Technical Forum Army-2020 (Army Forum 2020) in Russia, taking place from August 23 to September 5.
The People’s Army website announced that on the evening of August 20, Lieutenant General Ngo Minh Tien, deputy chief of the General Staff of the Vietnam People’s Army, led a delegation to Russia to attend Army Games 2020 and Army Forum-2020.
The purpose of participating in these two events is to “maintain a high-level delegation exchange between the two countries’ Defense Ministries, contributing to strengthening the traditional friendship, a comprehensive strategic partnership between Vietnam and the Federation. Russia,” also according to the People’s Army page.
At Army Games 2020, the Vietnamese team will participate in 6 competitions, according to the Vietnam News Agency on August 21.
According to the Bien Phong page, Vietnam’s competition contents over the past two years are: tanks, field kitchens, engineers, safety routes, rescue-rescue, chemistry, sniping and military medicine, and the three events for the first time this year are: artillery, sniffing dog training, and communication.
Xinhua quoted Ren Guoqiang, the spokesperson for the Ministry of National Defense, said on July 30 that “the Chinese army’s participation in this military exercise is to increase cooperation strategy between the Chinese and Russian armies.”
Russian media said that Army Games 2020 has more than 150 teams from over 30 countries. The competitions were held in the territory of five countries including Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Belarus, of which mainly in Russia. This year’s sports will take place from August 23 to September 5.
China on Aug 23 announced a major exercise in the Hoang Sa (Paracels)
This is the second drills in Vietnam’s Hoang Sa archipelago in the past two months. The scale of the exercise this time, according to the announcement, is even larger than the exercise in early July.
China’s People’s Daily on August 23 quoted an announcement from the Hainan Provincial Department of Civil Affairs that said China would conduct “military exercises” in the northeastern part of Vietnam’s Paracel Islands in six days, starting from August 24.
Based on the coordinates “the area no ships in and out” announced by China, this exercise area covers the group of islands belonging to the Hoang Sa archipelago of Vietnam that Beijing has used force to illegally occupy.
The Woody (Phu Lam Island), where China has illegally deployed fighters and missiles, is also located in the area where the drills are held.
This is the second time in the past two months that China has conducted a major exercise in Hoang Sa. The size of the exercises this time was announced to be even larger than the exercise in early July. There is no further information from the Chinese side about this exercise.
The Vietnamese Foreign Ministry reacted strongly and sent a note protesting against the Chinese exercises in Hoang Sa in July, asking Beijing not to repeat similar violations in the future.
The US Department of Defense then issued a statement criticizing China’s exercises in July this year, emphasizing Beijing’s behavior is going against efforts to ease tensions and maintain regional stability. Immediately after the announcement, the two US aircraft carriers entered the South China Sea and joined forces for the exercises.
Returning to the event that Vietnam did not participate in the RIMPAC drills held by the US, Prof. Carl Thayer on May 18 also predicted that “It is unlikely that Vietnam will send a warship to participate in this exercise.”
“This is the fourth time Vietnam has been invited to participate in RIMPAC. Vietnam sent its observers to similar drills in 2012 and 2016. Vietnam was also an official participant in the RIMPAC for the first time in 2018 and sent eight naval officers. But it didn’t bring any battleships.”
Five months ago, when the Corona virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread rapidly around the world, it appeared that the US Pacific Fleet (PACFLEET) would be unlikely to hold the scheduled drills taking place in June-July 2020. However, last April, PACFLEET sent letters to 25 Indo-Pacific countries inviting to join RIMPAC 2020.
The exercise has moved back from June 2020 to mid August 2020 and shortened the time from 5 weeks to 2 weeks.
Due to concerns from COVID-19, the exercise will take place entirely at sea to reduce the risk of infecting military personnel and residents of the Hawaiian Islands.
Some activities such as amphibious exercises, sports and cultural exchanges on the ground are canceled. The exercises at sea will include anti-submarine warfare items, marine interception training, and fire real-time ammunition targeting an expired US Navy ship.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic clearly affected the operational readiness capabilities of military forces throughout the Indo-Pacific region.
On August 20, 2020, the Philippine Foreign Ministry said it had sent a diplomatic note to protest the illegal confiscation of fishing tools of Filipino fishermen in an area of the South China Sea by the Chinese Coast Guard. Manila also objected to the Chinese ship’s “warning” of the Philippine maritime patrol aircraft.
Although PACFLEET has not released the list of countries participating in RIMPAC 2020, the press reports show that there are only 11 countries, including the US, Australia, Canada, France, India, Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Brunei, and Philippines and Singapore, significantly lower than the 26 countries participating in RIMPAC 2018.
China has not been invited to RIMPAC 2020. Despite participating in RIMPAC 2014 and 2016, China has not been invited since RIMPAC 2018 after the administration of President Donald Trump accused China of failing to realize its commitment to not militarize the artificial islands that China has occupied in the South China Sea.
However, the PLAN sent a spy ship to monitor the RIMPAC 2018 exercise. Presumably, the PLAN will once again have a non-guest presence at RIMPAC 2020.
The naval presence of the Southeast Asian nations off the Hawaiian Islands this time has decreased significantly since two years ago, mainly because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At RIMPAC 2018, 7 Southeast Asian countries participated, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines, sending warships, while Brunei, Thailand and Vietnam dispatched personnel to participate. Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar were not invited due to restrictions on US military cooperation with these three countries.