Sunday, November 16, 2008

Nov 13, 2008
Warship to make Viet port call

HANOI - A CHINESE warship will next week make a port call in central Vietnam as part of efforts to boost military ties between the communist nations, a government spokesman in Hanoi said on Thursday.

News of the Nov 18-22 visit follows a meeting between both countries' premiers in Beijing last month at which both sides, despite a history of distrust and conflict, pledged closer bilateral cooperation.

'This visit will help promote the friendship and cooperation between the two ministries of defence,' said foreign ministry spokesman Le Dung.

Mr Dung said that the ship's commanders would meet leaders of the central city of Danang as well as Vietnamese senior naval and army officials, while the ship's crew would play a football match while on shore.

China and Vietnam are communist allies but have a history of animosity and fought their most recent border war in 1979. Last year a Chinese naval ship reportedly fired at a Vietnamese fishing vessel in disputed waters.

Both are among countries laying claim to the Spratly islands in the South China Sea, believed to be rich in oil and gas reserves, and both claim sovereignty over the Paracel islands, which are occupied by China.

At their Oct meeting, premiers Wen Jiabao of China and Nguyen Tan Dung of Vietnam agreed on a series of steps, including collaboration on oil exploration and information exchanges by the two armed forces.

Vietnam expert Carl Thayer said the Chinese port call next week would be the first to Vietnam since Nov 2001 when the People's Liberation Army's guided missile frigate Yulin docked in Ho Chi Minh City.

'It's highly significant because of the reported build-up of tension last year in the South China Sea and the attempts this year by the party chiefs and prime ministers to prevent incidents in the South China Sea from damaging bilateral relations,' said Mr Thayer of the Australian Defence Force Academy.

'They have had four our five joint naval patrols in the Gulf of Tonkin, and this is a continuation of steps to build trust between the two navies.'

The visit comes one month after guided missile destroyer USS Mustin docked at Danang in the latest of a series of American port calls designed to boost relations between the former enemies. -- AFP

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