China tensions stoke Vietnam naval ambitions

Vietnam is looking to swell its naval reputation with enhanced firepower and renewed pride in its maritime past.

Haiphong: Facing an emboldened and
heavily armed China in a territorial stand-off, Vietnam is
looking to swell its naval reputation with enhanced firepower
and renewed pride in its maritime past.

Vietnam, hardly known for its naval prowess despite 3,200
kilometres of coastline, is keen to show its commitment to two
strategically important and reputedly resource-rich island
chains in the South China Sea also claimed by Beijing.

Hanoi has accelerated spending on sea power in recent
years to counter the increasing dominance of the Chinese navy,
experts say, and reassure a Vietnamese population wary of its
larger neighbour and former coloniser.

A hitherto little-known sea route used by the Communist
north in the war against US-backed South Vietnam has provided
just the right propaganda to show that when it comes to
fighting Hanoi, bigger does not necessarily mean better.

At a recent event to mark the 50th anniversary of the Ho
Chi Minh Sea Trail -- a supply route that delivered soldiers,
medicines and arms to the Viet Cong -- much was made of the
tales of out-gunned sailors outwitting a mighty enemy.

"History is being used for current disputes. It is a
demonstration that Vietnam has a maritime tradition," said
Vietnam expert Professor Carl Thayer of the University of New
South Wales in Australia.

He said the focus on the anniversary "plays into
nationalism and it makes the government more legitimate
because it`s the modern-day inheritor of that legacy."

A ceremony in the coastal city of Haiphong, around two
hours` drive north of Hanoi, was attended by Vietnamese
President Truong Tan Sang, broadcast live on television and
given prominent coverage in state-run newspapers.

"Between 1961 and 1975, these small ships won over
America`s modern weapons," said Sang, adding that "thousands
of weapons and tens of thousands of soldiers" were transported
by the sea route.

Veteran Nguyen Quang Mui, looking like he still spends
much of his time in his naval uniform, proudly told reporters
about his time on the "no-number fleet", so-called because
their boats were stripped of identifying markers.

"We were ordered to protect our force and secretly bring
our goods onshore at any price... We did not think of death,"
the 70-year-old told AFP at the anniversary event last month.


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