The naval infantry force of the Vietnam People’s Navy (VPN) has conducted an exercise simulating the recapture of an island: a drill that seems to underscore Hanoi’s concern about China’s growing assertiveness and military build-up in the disputed South China Sea (SCS).
Footage from the exercise was aired on 25 July by the Vietnam National Defence television channel (QPVN). The drill included at least two of the VPN’s three Polnochny-class (Project 771) tank landing ships, which deployed a number of PT-76 light amphibious tanks.
This was followed by naval infantry in small boats and a number of 10-tonne BTR-60PB armoured personnel carriers being deployed on beaches. The exercise did not appear to have included either naval gunfire or aerial support.
While the actual date of the drill was not revealed, analysts say that it likely took place after the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s (PCA’s) 12 July ruling on the legality of Beijing’s territorial claims in the SCS.
The court in The Hague ruled that Beijing’s claim to ‘historic rights’ within most of the disputed waters has no legal basis. The PCA decided on a case brought by the Philippines, which argued that Chinese activity in the region was violating international law. Vietnam is now also considering bringing its own case to the PCA.
Beijing claims most of the SCS on the grounds it is asserting ‘historic rights’ to maritime resources in the area. China has also embarked on creating controversial artificial islands in the disputed waters, some of which have airstrips and military installations.
This has prompted territorial disputes with neighbouring states such as Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam, which stake competing claims.
Vietnam occupies about 24 islands and reefs in the disputed Spratlys, including islands close to China’s newly reclaimed bases on Subi Reef and Gaven Reef.