Published: Tue, March 06, 2018

U.S. aircraft carrier Carl Vinson makes historic port call in Vietnam

U.S. aircraft carrier Carl Vinson makes historic port call in Vietnam

The U.S. avoided the potentially more provocative choice of having the Carl Vinson visit Cam Ranh Bay to the south, which is closer to the Spratly Islands, whose sovereignty is disputed among parties including Vietnam and China.

A U.S. aircraft carrier has arrived at a Vietnamese port for the first time since the end of the Vietnam War more than forty years ago, according to media reports.

Publicly, the United States has portrayed the four-day visit by the Vinson and its contingent of 5,000 sailors and aviators as a historic opportunity to enhance the budding friendship that has emerged between the two former foes.

"We've seen several, so yes, we've seen Chinese ships", Rear Admiral John Fuller, Commander, Carrier Strike Group 1, told reporters in Danang. He hopes a US submarine would one day visit Vietnam.

China has been aggressive in asserting claims in the South China Sea area, and has built islands on reefs and militarized those facilities.

"Hanoi's agreement to the aircraft carrier visit demonstrates Vietnam's anxiety about what China will do next in the South China Sea", Murray Hiebert of the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies said to The New York Times.

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Vietnam is one of the claimants in the territorial disputes with China, which has in turn challenged the USA navy's presence in the waters.

Vietnamese leaders agreed to the four-day port call during President Donald J. Trump's visit to the country previous year. The high-profile symbolism of the U.S. attempting to check China's power in the region is not lost among analysts.

Sailors will also visit a center for victims of Agent Orange, a defoliant used by the USA military during the war, according to a report in The New York Times.

The visit includes friendly basketball and soccer matches between U.S. sailors and locals, along with an orphanage visit and navy band concerts.

The United States normalized relations with Vietnam in 1995 and lifted an arms embargo in 2016, and the two former adversaries have steadily improved bilateral relations in all areas, including trade, investment and security. A U.S. Navy band will also perform a concert in Da Nang. China has condemned the operations and has responded in the past by scrambling fighter jets to monitor the US vessels.

During their stay in Da Nang, U.S. Navy officers will meet their Vietnamese counterparts and local authorities, who will be invited on a tour of the carrier.

Vietnam Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said the visit underscores its good relations with the US and contributes to "maintaining peace, stability, security, cooperation and development in the region".

China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea, where more than $5 trillion of goods are shipped each year through some of the world's busiest waterways.

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