US Aircraft Carrier to Visit Vietnam

Adjust Comment Print

The arrival of the Vinson marks the biggest United States military presence in Vietnam since 1975 - but it also illustrates Hanoi's complex and evolving relationship with Beijing over the disputed South China Sea as China announced its largest rise in defence spending in three years.

Asked about disputed claims in the South China Sea, Admiral John Fuller, Commander of Carrier Strike Group 1, said the United States was "not going to pick sides".

"Through hard work, mutual respect, and by continuing to address the past while we work towards a better future, we have gone from former enemies to close partners", he continued. The nuclear-powered USS Carl Vinson is home to 5,300 sailors, pilots and crew and 72 aircraft and will be in Danang - once a key USA airbase - until its departure on Friday.

Analysts say the USS Carl Vinson's landmark visit also sends a signal to China, whose aggressive land reclamation and military buildup activities in the South China Sea have alarmed smaller regional neighbors and represent an increasing challenge to US naval dominance in the Pacific.

The Nimitz-class supercarrier, accompanied by a carrier and a destroyer, anchored off the coast of Da Nang - the city where 3,500 Marines landed in March 1965 as the first American ground troops in a conflict that would eventually leave 58,000 Americans and millions of Vietnamese dead.

"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.

China's claims to the South China Sea stretch roughly 1,000 miles from its southern shores, pitting it against Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam.

The U.S. and Vietnam each seek to contest Beijing's projection of maritime influence through their show of improved ties and force.

"The message the USS Carl Vinson sends is that the U.S. will maintain its naval presence in the South China Sea and that Vietnam supports the presence of the U.S. Navy as long as it contributes to regional peace and stability", he wrote.

The visit includes a number of cultural and community events, such as basketball and soccer matches between USA sailors and locals, an orphanage visit and naval band concerts. The 7th Fleet band will perform free concerts.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters Friday that China hopes the "exchanges between [the US and Vietnam] would contribute to regional peace and stability in a positive and constructive way, instead of adding any unsettling factors".

Separately from this week's mission, US officials have said American warships would continue sailing without prior notice close to the China-occupied islands and atolls, an aggressive way of signaling to Beijing that it does not recognize its sovereignty over those areas.

Addressing scholars and students in Delhi, visiting Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang expressed gratitude for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's statement at the ASEAN-India summit last November regarding India's Act East Policy, even as he backed India's permanent membership to United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

The Vietnam War - which Vietnam calls the American War - was protracted and bloody.