Last week, Philip Davidson, the commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, embarked on his first visit to Vietnam in his current capacity. Though the headlines focused on the development itself, its significance should be understood in thebroader context of U.S.-Vietnam defense ties, which have continued to deepen during the Trump administration despite lingering concerns.
As I have observed before in these pages, over the decades, U.S.-Vietnam defense cooperation has slowly grown to encompass areas including maritime security, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and peacekeeping. This realm of the relationship has deepened further across the board under the Trump administration, even amid some lingering concerns about wider aspects of the administration’s Asia policy and some challenges Vietnam has been facing in terms of its own domestic and foreign policy.
That has continued on into 2019 as well. Despite some lingering challenges and limitations in the defense relationship, there have been developments to reinforce this aspect of ties, with one recent example on the capacity-building side being the delivery of another six Metal Shark patrol vessels to the Vietnamese Coast Guard publicly announced earlier this month. Both sides are also considering initiatives to boost defense ties still further, including another U.S. aircraft carrier visit to Vietnam and high-level visits by Vietnamese officials to the United States.