Last week, Vietnam and Thailand completed a series of interactions tied to the 36th iteration of joint patrols that they have been regularly holding. The activity highlighted a means that both countries have been using to help address maritime challenges within their broader relationship.

The maritime domain has long factored into wider cooperation between Vietnam and Thailand in their relationship, which, though characterized by animosity for much of the Cold War, has been warming appreciably in recent years, with ties officially elevated to the level of a strategic partnership back in 2013.

This includes not only exploiting areas of opportunity within their relationship in an economic sense (Thailand is Vietnam’s largest trading partner in Southeast Asia) or advancing generally shared priorities like stability in the South China Sea, but also addressing ongoing challenges that get less of a public hearing in official statements such as maritime delimitation and illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing.

As both countries continue to deepen their strategic partnership – with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc visiting Thailand last August and Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha visiting Vietnam in November for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit (APEC) – the two countries have been continuing to address these challenges using a variety of means, including increasing communication between maritime agencies and promoting awareness among fishermen.

One of the means through which both sides make progress in this realm is joint patrols between the Royal Thai Navy (RTN) and the Vietnam People’s Navy (VPN). The patrols have allowed officials from both sides to enhance understanding of how they work and deepen cooperation through the actual operationalization of procedures in the maritime domain.

Last week, the two navies completed the 36th iteration of their joint patrols, which included a series of maneuvers at sea as well as the visit of Vietnamese ships and personnel to the RTN’s Region 1 Command.

According to the Vietnamese military, the patrols themselves included a search and rescue exercise, an operation related to directing fishermen to adhere to maritime delimitations, and maneuvers that involved the use of signal flags, lamplight signaling, and the operationalization of the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES).

Following the patrols, Vietnamese and Thai personnel boarded each others’ vessels and exchanged related experiences and skills. Vietnamese ships also docked at Chuk Port in Samet, Thailand for a visit and other interactions involving the RTN’s Region 1 Command. There were several events held during the visit, including a reception and a friendly volleyball match.

By Prashanth Parameswaran - The Diplomat - January 03, 2018