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Thayer Consultancy Background Briefing:

ABN # 65 648 097 123


Vietnam Participates in Rim of
the Pacific Exercise
Carlyle A. Thayer
July 4, 2018

We request your assessment concerning Vietnam's participation in RIMPAC exercises


this year.
Q1. What is the significance of the invitation issued by the United States inviting
Vietnam to participate in this exercise for the first time?
ANSWER: Vietnam has participated in RIMPAC exercises twice before as an observer
in 2012 and 2014. This time Vietnam has been invited as a participant along with
Brazil, Israel and Sri Lanka. Vietnam's invitation is recognition by the United States
that Vietnam is a strategic partner (even if Vietnam does not use that term to
describe its relations with the U.S.). It indicates that military-to-military relations
have evolved over time especially after President Obama removed all restrictions on
the sale of military weapons and equipment.
Vietnam's invitation is part of a larger initiative spelled out in the U.S. National
Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy for the U.S. to provide leadership for
a network of regional states to cooperate on security matters. Vietnam was listed
first among Southeast Asian states after treaty allies Thailand and the Philippines.
It should be noted that 25 countries are participating including seven ASEAN
members: Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Q2. This year Vietnam has committed to sending just eight military officers but no
warship. Why is Vietnam’s contribution so limited? Is it because Vietnam does not
want to annoy Beijing, especially after the United States withdrew its invitation to
China to participate? Or is it because of logistics issues?
ANSWER: Logistics is the key. Malaysia has been a long-time participant in RIMPAC
exercises. This is the first year Malaysia sent a warship to participate. This only
became possible after the Royal Malaysian Navy's ship KD Lekiu conducted
replenishment at sea exercises with the USNS Washington Chambers. If you will the
USNS Washington Chambers acted as a "mobile petrol" station to refuel the KD
Lekiu.
Vietnam has yet to master long distance blue water sailing. Vietnam prefers to take
things one step at a time. Vietnam’s eight participants will be involved in
humanitarian assistance and rescue exercises only and not military exercises (tập
trận).
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Since China was originally invited and accepted (it has participated in the past two
RIMPAC exercises) it is not in a position to be critical of other participants, including
Vietnam. China has only itself to blame for having the U.S. invitation withdrawn.
Besides, if China criticized Vietnam it would also have to criticize other ASEAN
members who are participating.
Q3. Will China undertake any response to RIMPC over the next five weeks? Is it likely
China will carry out a tit-for-tat?
ANSWER: RIMPAC is being held far from the South China Sea in the waters near
Hawaii and further east in the waters off California. As a result of Secretary of
Defence James Mattis’ recent visit to China there was agreement to keep the
channels of military contacts open.
Since China participated in RIMPAC in the past, and may do so again in the future,
China will not want to “queer the pitch” (undermine or spoil RIMPAC). China will not
respond in a negative way.
RIMPAC is the largest multinational naval exercise in the world. China cannot mount
a counter-naval exercise of this magnitude at short notice. China has already carried
out a large-scale naval exercise off Hainan island earlier this year.

Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “Vietnam Participates in Rim of the Pacific


Exercise,” Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, July 4, 2018. All background briefs
are posted on Scribd.com (search for Thayer). To remove yourself from the mailing
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Thayer Consultancy provides political analysis of current regional security issues and
other research support to selected clients. Thayer Consultancy was officially
registered as a small business in Australia in 2002.