Vietnam uses an old naval base to make new friends

Diplomacy by other means

NEAR the point where Vietnam bulges deepest into the South China Sea lies Cam Ranh Bay, perhaps the finest natural deepwater harbour in South-East Asia. France based a fleet there in colonial times. Russian ships made use of it in the Russo-Japanese war, Japanese ones during the second world war and American ones during the Vietnam war.

After the American withdrawal and communist triumph, the government of the newly reunited Vietnam leased the naval base to the Soviet Union. Russia gave up the facility in 2002. Today it is Russian tourists who flock to Cam Ranh International Airport, with its American-built airstrip, on their way to the beaches of nearby Nha Trang.

These days Vietnam ostensibly follows a policy of “Three Nos”: no military alliances, no foreign bases and no joining with another country to fight a third. Nonetheless, adjacent to the Vietnamese naval base at Cam Ranh is a facility that receives foreign military vessels. In theory it is a purely commercial venture, open to the ships of any country willing to pay for the maintenance and refuelling it provides. But it also serves a strategic...

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