WASHINGTON - The United States and Vietnam on Aug. 1 opened their first formal military relationship since their war, another sign of growing cooperation amid high tensions between Hanoi and China.
The U.S. and Vietnamese militaries signed an agreement in Hanoi setting up cooperation in health, setting the stage for exchanges and research collaboration in military medicine, a U.S. Navy statement said.
The former war foes have been steadily building ties and last month held a joint naval drill. But Aug. 1's agreement marks the first formal military cooperation since the normalization of diplomatic relations in 1995, the navy said.
Vice Adm. Adam M. Robinson Jr., the Navy's surgeon general, said that the agreement was not about politics and that the United States hoped for more collaboration on health issues around the region.
"Medicine and medical research are universal languages that all countries and cultures understand. Diseases affect us all in the same way," Robinson said in the statement.
"By working together in areas such as infectious disease research, we not only help each other, we help the world meet these global health challenges," he said.
Despite memories of war, Vietnam has been eager for broader ties with the United States amid a flare-up in its historically tense relationship with China.
Both Vietnam and the Philippines have accused China in recent months of provocations in the South China Sea, where Beijing has a number of territorial disputes.
The United States has stood behind the Southeast Asian nations, repeatedly urging freedom of navigation. However, the United States described last week's exercises off Vietnam's central coast as non-combat, saying they focused on areas such as navigation and maintenance.
The United States is expanding military cooperation despite concern over Vietnam's human rights record. The United States last week demanded the release of Nguyen Van Ly, a Catholic priest and democracy advocate who was re-arrested despite concerns over his health.
A number of U.S. lawmakers have urged President Barack Obama's administration to make better relations with Vietnam contingent on improvements in human rights.