Vietnam's Cam Ranh base to welcome foreign navies
Tuesday, November 2, 2010; 2:16 AM
HANOI, Vietnam -- Vietnam will open repair facilities for foreign naval ships and submarines at the former U.S. military base at Cam Ranh Bay, state media reported Tuesday, amid regional concerns over China's growing maritime might.
Tuoi Tre, or Youth, newspaper quoted the defense minister as saying the port also could be a fuel stop for aircraft carriers.
Phung Quang Thanh told local reporters on the sidelines of a National Assembly session that the facilities would mainly serve Vietnam's own navy but services provided to foreign navies could help offset operating costs.
That follows similar comments by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung at the weekend at the end of an Asian summit here that the services would be offered to vessels from all countries at market rates.
Vietnam's offer comes amid concern among Southeast Asian countries over a series of aggressive moves by China on the high seas and long-running territorial disputes - including a recent spat with Vietnam after China arrested nine of its fishermen near disputed islands in the South China Sea. China eventually released them.
Cam Ranh is strategically located near key shipping lanes in the South China Sea and is close to the potentially oil-rich Spratlys and Paracel islands. The Spratlys are claimed by Vietnam, China, Malaysia, the Philipines, Brunei and Taiwan. The Paracels are claimed by Vietnam and China.
U.S., which has irked China by voicing concern that the territorial disputes could imperil those international shipping lanes, has recently promoted its ties with former enemy Vietnam including U.S. Navy port calls and flying high-ranking Vietnamese officials to a U.S. aircraft carrier off Vietnam's central coast.
Cam Ranh bay served as a U.S. air and naval base during the Vietnam War. It was taken over by the former Soviet Union in 1979 under a 25-year rent-free agreement, then returned to Hanoi in May 2002. Vietnam has said it would not allow a foreign base in the bay again, but would develop it for national economic development and defense.
Thanh Nien, or Young People, newspaper quoted Thanh as saying that Vietnam will hire Russian consultants and buy Russian technology for the new repair facilities, which will take three years to build. He said the facilities would be separate from Vietnam's current naval base there, dismissing worries of revealing military secrets when foreign naval ships anchor at the port.