Secretary of Defense James Mattis has an extra trip to Vietnam planned this year amid rising tensions with China that includes a rare visit to the nation’s capitol, Ho Chi Min City, according to an Associated Press report on Monday.
Typically, the Secretary of defense doesn’t conduct more than one visit a year to Vietnam, according to the AP. Mattis’s trip to Ho Chi Min City Tuesday will be the second visit from a U.S. Pentagon chief since the Vietnam War.
Vietnamese national waters are, along with Philippine, Malay, Bruneian, and international waters being intruded upon by Chinese military forces in the South China Sea. China has been exploiting ancient claims in the region since 2014 to violate international waters and destroy tropical reefs to drill oil wells and establish military bases in the region.
The South China Sea is a sea lane between the Philippines and Vietnam that is historically economically vital to the nations in the region and Chinese militarization of the atolls there directly violates promises made to former President Barack Obama in 2015. The sea’s shallow waters have been the scene of several international incidents in recent weeks. Controversial voyages from Japanese, Australian, British, and American military forces have been met with reprisals and confrontation from Beijing. (RELATED: Chinese Warship Nearly Rams US Navy Destroyer)
Mattis’s trip was originally to include an annually scheduled defense meeting with China that was canceled due to tensions in the South China Sea. U.S. defense officials have claimed China canceled the meeting, according to Reuters, however, the Hong Kong paper, The South China Post, claims that U.S. officials postponed the talks. China also unilaterally cancelled a September Hong Kong port visit for a U.S. Navy ship due to incidents in the South China Sea and in response to American sanctions on China that cited Chinese purchases of Russian weapons, according to CNN.
Despite these diplomatic issues, Mattis has remained optimistic. He told reporters that in regard to China “we do not see it getting worse” and “We’ll sort this out,” according to an Oct. 2 Time report.
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