Vice-Admiral Phillip Sawyer, commander of the US Seventh Fleet, speaks as a statue of late Vietnamese revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh is seen in the background. Photo: Reuters

Vice-Admiral Phillip Sawyer, commander of the US Seventh Fleet, has reportedly said that he “would greatly look forward to bringing one of the US submarines into a port in Vietnam” and this is “one of the things [he] will offer” when he talks to Vietnamese Navy officials about expanding bilateral naval cooperation this week.

Sawyer, who was in Da Nang, Vietnam, for a goodwill visit by the Carl Vinson carrier strike group, made the comment during a Monday teleconference with reporters, according to USNI News.

The Vinson is on a historic port call to Da Nang, the site of a onetime US base with extensive facilities. Analysts say the move is designed to deepen navy-to-navy ties between the two former foes in a veiled warning to China. It is the first US carrier to visit the country since the end of the Vietnam War.

The top US fleet commander didn’t specify exactly what he meant by “bringing” a US sub into a Vietnamese port. He appeared to be referring to a goodwill port call similar to the one being made by the Vinson. Sawyer also said he looked forward to such a move as a “career submariner.”

“I would greatly look forward to bringing one of the US submarines into a port in Vietnam, so that’s one of the things I will offer,” USNI News quoted Sawyer as saying, alluding to talks with Vietnamese Navy brass this week.

Attention has focused on future US moves in the Indo-Pacific region, the Seventh Fleet’s operating area, amid reports that Washington is hunting for new bases in the region in response to a growing Chinese naval presence.

Coy about US-Viet naval cooperation

USNI News says Sawyer was otherwise “coy about what the future of US-Vietnamese naval activities could look like.”

“I will work closely with my Vietnamese partners, and we will develop ideas and options for what makes sense for both of us,” he said in response to a question during the teleconference.

“We continue building on the robust partnership that we actually already have.… When we talk about what’s in the future, recognize that we have done quite a bit already: We have a continuing engagement with the people here, it’s called Pacific Partnership, that we’ll do again this year. So I look forward to talking with my Vietnamese counterparts to discuss what else we can do going into the future,” Sawyer added.

When asked again about the future of the US-Vietnam naval relationship, Sawyer said: “There have been a lot of things in my mind that I will discuss with the Vietnamese Navy leadership, but it really is kind of a two-way street; I want to make sure I understand what would be beneficial for the Vietnamese Navy and what we can do, and then we will come up with a plan going forward.”

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