Vietnam’s defense ministry has sent eight naval officers to Hawaii as the 2018 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise, the world’s largest multinational naval drill held every two years, got under way on Wednesday.
The ministry said it was the first time that Vietnam has been invited to participate in the international maritime exercise that will last until the end of July. Vietnam sent observation officers to the drill twice in 2012 and 2016, it said.
The Vietnamese officers will work with peers from 25 countries in the large-scale disaster exercise involving naval drills, maritime control and provision of humanitarian relief. The other first-time participants are Brazil, Israel and Sri Lanka.
Participating in the one-month maritime exercise are 47 surface ships, five submarines, 18 national land forces, and more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 naval forces.
Vietnam’s first-ever involvement in RIMPAC marks a major thaw in ties between former foes as also a significant step forward in their military relations.
RIMPAC, which was first held in 1971, is aimed at promoting regional stability through naval cooperation among countries in the region.
The Pentagon last May uninvited China from the major U.S.-hosted naval drill in response to Beijing’s militarization of disputed islands in the South China Sea, known as the East Sea in Vietnam.
China, which participated in the event in 2014 and 2016, called the move unconstructive.
Last March, U.S. aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson’s historic visit to the central city of Da Nang marked a monumental milestone in the diplomatic relationship between the two countries.
The event garnered global attention as the first time a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier had docked in Vietnam, four decades after the end of the Vietnam War.
Defense relations between Vietnam and the U.S. have further strengthened since 2016, when President Obama lifted a ban on the sale of assault weapons to Vietnam. The Trump administration has also identified Vietnam as a “cooperative maritime partner.”