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Vietnam’s geography is difficult to say the least. Razor thin coastal plains backed by jungle mountains separate the thriving metropolises of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. That split both condemns Vietnam to suffering from conflicting leadership as well as encourages foreign forces to believe they can conquer the country by aligning with one of them. It doesn’t work. Just as the Japanese, Chinese, French or Americans.

The singular exception is Cam Ranh Bay, by far the best deepwater port in Southeast Asia. The cove’s shelter enables power projection for a large fleet. Those sharp mountain hinterlands protect any navy in the bay from land attack. All that’s needed is a navy. But Vietnam is even now still preoccupied with consolidating control over the South after the country’s brutal war. It has no available resources from which to develop such a navy. The Soviets occupied Cam Ranh in the late Cold War and the newly-expansionist Russians have floated their return. But Hanoi has other ideas; it would rather partner with a richer power, with the Japanese and American under deep consideration.

There’s only one problem: if China isn’t to face energy starvation it will need to establish a militarized supply line running all the way to the Persian Gulf.

Cam Ranh is the first stop.

For more on Vietnam’s future, see Chapter 9 in The Accidental Superpower, and Chapter 8 in The Absent Superpower.