An official in Khanh Hoa province, where the bay is located, said the four-day port call at Cam Ranh International Port would start on Saturday.

The visit by three ships carrying 750 sailors would include exchanges with the Vietnamese navy and meetings with provincial leaders, the official said.

The international port, whose first phase with an investment of US$80 million was completed earlier this year, offers repairs, maintenance and logistics to foreign naval and commercial ships.

The port is separate from Vietnam’s military installations at the bay.

The visit comes weeks after two US navy ships paid a first visit to Cam Ranh Bay since the countries normalised relations 21 years ago.

Cam Ranh Bay served as a US air and naval base during the Vietnam War. It was taken over by the former Soviet Union in 1979 under a 25-year, rent-free agreement, and was returned to Hanoi in 2002.

The visit of the Chinese ships comes as Hanoi and Beijing are in dispute over parts of the South China Sea.

Beijing claims almost all seas, which occupy one of the world’s busiest sea lanes and is potentially rich in natural resources.

China’s recent building of artificial islands in the Spratly islands and military build-up in the area have alarmed countries in the region and the United States.

That has led Vietnam to seek closer ties with the United States to counter China’s growing assertiveness.

The Associated Press - October 21, 2016

Chinese naval ships set for 1st visit to Vietnam’s Cam Ranh port

Vietnam will receive three Chinese warships from Saturday at its newly opened Cam Ranh international port, a provincial government official said on Thursday, following a similar visit by U.S. vessels last month.

The visit will run from Saturday until Oct. 26, an official of the external relations department of Vietnam's central province of Khanh Hoa, where the port is located, said.

The official, who declined to be identified because of lack of authorization to speak to the media, gave no further details.

The visit will be the first by Chinese navy ships to Cam Ranh, state-controlled news website VnExpress said, adding that 750 Chinese military personnel would participate in activities with Vietnam's navy.

The new international port is separate from Vietnam's military installations at Cam Ranh, a strategic deep water bay used by the United States during the Vietnam War.

Vietnam's invitation to China, although the two nations are at odds over the South China Sea, is in line with the Communist Party's stated goal of a balanced foreign policy that favors no country, even as ties with Washington are at their warmest yet.

It comes amid uncertainty over the U.S. "pivot" to Asia, and troubles with some of its historic alliances and with a new administration soon to be decided in Washington.

"This is actually quite normal, showing that Vietnam is open to all countries and does not take any particular side," said Ha Hoang Hop, a Vietnamese academic who has advised the government.

"Vietnam's diplomatic policy is to not engage with any military ally, or engage with any country, to oppose a third country," Hop said.

Vietnam, however, welcomes a U.S. role in the region when it intervenes to keep peace, stability and prosperity, a top Vietnamese general said on Monday.

The deep water bay at Cam Ranh is now home to Hanoi's fleet of modern submarines, the key plank of its deterrent strategy for the South China Sea.

Since opening early this year the international port has hosted ships from several countries including France, Japan, Singapore and the United States.

Reuters , October 21, 2016