Earlier this month, Armed Forces International reported on the 2012 Balikatan military exercises involving US and Philippine armed forces equipment and personnel. The start of these on 16 April coincided with deepening tensions between the Philippine and Chinese navies and, as such, generated some controversy.
Now, the US Navy's just started a five-day exercise with counterparts from the Vietnamese People's Navy and, again, there's Chinese tensions bubbling away in the background, although China has no direct involvement in this programme.
Three US Navy vessels from the 7th Fleet are participating in the joint US-Vietnamese naval exercise, including command and control ship USS Blue Ridge, the warship USS Chafee and the rescue ship USNS Safeguard. Combat scenarios won't be staged but, instead, the two navies will explore collaborative emergency response and navigation work, to name but two areas.
US-Vietnamese Naval Exercise
According to the US Navy's Rear Admiral Tom Carney, the US-Vietnamese naval exercise "enhances collective cooperation and promotes understanding between our Navies" and it's just the latest in a series of joint US-Vietnamese ventures undertaken in recent months.
However, as it takes place, Vietnam, China and other countries remain at odds over the ownership of several islands located in the South China Sea - an area considered gas and oil deposit-heavy.
In mid-2011, Vietnam and China's rocky relationship intensified further, when Vietnamese officials claimed China had been trying to disrupt its oil exploration work - a charge Beijing later denied. Chinese and Vietnamese naval forces haven't physically clashed for almost 25 years but Beijing still refers to the South China Sea as a "core interest" which, in theory, it might be prepared to defend through force.
Joint Naval Exercise: US and Vietnam
It was the USS John C. Stennis that, three years ago, opened up a new era in US-Vietnamese military cooperation by allowing on board, for the first time, Vietnamese personnel.
Things have come a long way since then. Besides the joint naval exercises and visits that have since followed, the US and Vietnam have also worked together in other areas - ship repairs being one. A total of five US Navy ships have, in recent months, been worked on at Vietnam's shipyards.