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​Vietnam-US ‘have come a long way’: 7th Fleet commander

Friday, March 09, 2018, 15:05 GMT+7
​Vietnam-US ‘have come a long way’: 7th Fleet commander
Portrait of Vice Admiral Phillip G. Sawyer, Commander of the 7th fleet, US Navy. Photo: Nguyen Khanh/Tuoi Tre

Vice Admiral Phillip G. Sawyer, commander of the U.S. Navy 7th fleet, has an exclusive interview with Tuoi Tre News on the prospect of strengthened bilateral naval ties between Vietnam and the U.S. in the future.

The interview was made when Vice Adm. Sawyer was in Vietnam during a historic five-day port call by a group of U.S. Navy ships, led by aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson.

The landmark visit marked the largest military presence of the U.S. in Vietnam since the war ended in 1975.

The supercarrier, accompanied by guided missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain and destroyer USS Wayne E.Meyer, and 6,000 sailors and officers left the coastal city on Friday.

A Vietnamese naval officer watches as guided missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain approaches Tien Sa Port off Da Nang City, central Vietnam, on March 5, 2018. Photo: Tuoi Tre
A Vietnamese naval officer watches as guided missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain approaches Tien Sa Port off Da Nang City, central Vietnam, on March 5, 2018. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Do you think the U.S. Navy’s presence in the Asia Pacific is enough to protect freedom of navigation in the area?

The U.S. Navy presence has helped promote a free and open Indo-Pacific for the past 75 years.

As part of that presence, the U.S. 7th Fleet has provided security by flying, sailing and operating anywhere international law allows. That will continue to happen.

At the same time, we are by no means the only navy operating in the region and there are many other like-minded navies that patrol the region in ways that promote security and stability. No one can do this alone.

That is why we spend so much time developing relationships with partner navies, like the Vietnam People's Navy [VPN], that share interests in freedom of navigation and unimpeded maritime commerce.

What are major outcomes of the carrier’s visit to Da Nang?

As Ambassador Kritenbrink has said, the visit by USS Carl Vinson, USS Lake Champlain and USS Wayne E. Meyer is a significant, historic milestone in our relationship with Vietnam as part of the comprehensive partnership, and our relationship with the VPN.

More importantly, these ships brought nearly 6,000 sailors to Da Nang, and they had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see this beautiful city and connect with its people. We haven't brought so many sailors here before at once. So the relationships are the most important outcome.

Additionally, the visit provided an opportunity for me to meet with my VPN counterparts at Naval Zone Three to discuss ways to move the navy relationship forward.

Colonel Nguyen Quang Vinh (left), deputy head of the Department of External Affairs, Ministry of Denfense, shakes hands with Vice Admiral Phillip Sawyer, Commander of the 7th fleet, US Navy, during a welcome ceremony at the Tien Sa Port, Da Nang, on March 5, 2018. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre
Colonel Nguyen Quang Vinh (left), deputy head of the Department of External Affairs, Ministry of Denfense, shakes hands with Vice Admiral Phillip Sawyer, Commander of the 7th Fleet, U.S. Navy, during a welcome ceremony at the Tien Sa Port, Da Nang, on March 5, 2018. Photo: Nguyen Khanh/Tuoi Tre

In your views, how mutual trust between the two countries’ militaries has been improved since the normalization in 1995?

From a naval perspective, we've come a long way since USS Vandegrift first visited Ho Chi Minh City in 2003 and USS Curtis Wilbur first visited Da Nang in 2004.

Many more ships have visited Da Nang over the years, often in conjunction with the U.S. Navy's Pacific Partnership mission or our Naval Engagement Activity [NEA].

Our leaders also meet during the year either in Vietnam or in the United States. Trust and confidence have grown as our navies have had more opportunities to interact over the years, culminating in this most recent ship visit.

Again, it's all about the relationships between our people, and it takes time to build those.

You have mentioned a U.S. submarine may visit Vietnam in the future. How about this possibility? Could you share about prospects of the two countries’ defense ties?

Our naval relationship develops through an ongoing dialogue based on shared interests and reciprocal engagements.

We want to advance the relationship at a pace that works for the VPN. So we'll continue to discuss the best way to do that.

There are no specific details for a submarine visit, but it is one of the ways we will look at advancing the relationship as our dialogue continues.

USS Carl Vinson carries a crew of 3,000 sailors and 2,000 airborne staff. Photo: Nguyen Khanh/Tuoi Tre
USS Carl Vinson carries a crew of 3,000 sailors and 2,000 airborne staff. Photo: Nguyen Khanh/Tuoi Tre

Is this your first time to Da Nang and Vietnam? What do you like most about the city during this visit?

I was very impressed by the beauty and energy of Da Nang, and especially the warmth of its people.

The way Da Nang opened its people's arms to our ships and sailors was not lost on me and I look forward to returning.

Vice Admiral Phillip G. Sawyer is a native of Phoenix, Arizona. After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1983, he started his career as a submarine officer.

Sawyer assumed duties as Commander of the 7th Fleet of the U.S. Navy on August 23, 2017, to replace Rear Admiral Joseph Aucoin. Aucoin was dismissed following a series of accidents occurring to active U.S. warships operating in the Pacific theater last year.

The 7th Fleet, headquartered in Yokosuka, Japan, is the largest U.S. fleet based in Asia. It takes on “sensitive” missions in the East Vietnam Sea and the Korean peninsula region. 

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Quynh Trung / Tuoi Tre News

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