U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Sunday visited this deep-water port and former American military base to promote a closer military partnership with the Vietnamese as part the Pentagon’s plan to shift the bulk of its naval assets to Asia within the next decade.
The trip to Vietnam was an important sign of American aspirations in the region. Mr. Panetta indicated that the U.S. Navy would like to once more have regular access to the bay, which commands a strategic location on the South China Sea and was a key logistics hub during the Vietnam War.
The visit also had deep historical resonance. Mr. Panetta is the first U.S. defense secretary to visit the deepwater port of Cam Ranh Bay since the end of the Vietnam War.
“All of us recall a great deal of blood was spilled in this war on all sides, by Americans and by Vietnamese,” Mr. Panetta said aboard the USNS Richard E. Byrd, a Navy supply ship anchored in the bay.
“If out of all of that sacrifice we can build a strong partnership that looks to the future, then perhaps not only can we begin to heal the wounds of the past, we can build a better future for our people in the Asia-Pacific region.”
Under the Pentagon’s plan, the U.S. would shift cruisers, destroyers, submarines and other warships so that 60% of them will be based in the Pacific by 2020.
Currently, the U.S. Navy fleet of 285 ships is evenly split between the Atlantic and the Pacific.