United States 'supercarrier' USS Carl Vinson makes historic port call in Vietnam

Rosalie Gross
March 7, 2018

"Even as it moves forward with the U.S., Vietnam has been engaging China over South China Sea tensions", said Le Hong Hiep, a Vietnam expert at Singapore's ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute.

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.

For Vietnam, which has objected most strongly to China over issues in the South China Sea, the expanding us involvement in Asia has been fortunate. About 58,000 American soldiers and an estimated 3 million Vietnamese were killed in the war.

"The United States and Vietnam share a range of interests including a desire to maintain peace, prosperity, unimpeded commerce, (and) freedom of navigation, upon which the region and its economies depend", he told reporters Monday. The docking of the vast vessel, which can support up to 90 aircraft, will represent the largest USA military presence in Vietnam since the end of many years of bitter conflict and after the country was unified in 1975.

The port call is seen as both a landmark in evolving U.S. -Vietnam relations and a strong message to China, which is taking aggressive action to seize control over the entire South China Sea.

Sailors are expected to participate in cultural and professional exchanges during community service projects and receptions.

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Danang, which was a major US military base during the war, is now Vietnam's third-largest city and is in the midst of a construction boom as dozens of resorts and hotels pop up along its scenic coastline. "They are anxious about where China is going, and they have wanted for years now to have a better relationship with the United States", CNN analyst and retired U.S. Navy rear admiral John Kirby explained. In 2014, Beijing deployed an oil rig in disputed waters near Vietnam, which led to a standoff between naval vessels and sparked violent anti-China demonstrations in Vietnam.

"It's a pretty big and historic step, since a carrier has not been here for 40 years", said Rear Admiral John V. Fuller, the commander of the Carl Vinson strike group.

Huynh Quang Nguyen, a taxi driver, said he was "happy and excited" about the visit.

Some Chinese commentators have used the USS Carl Vinson's presence in the region as justification to demand a rise in Chinese military build-up in the South China Sea.

"I'm very happy and excited with the carrier's visit", he said.

Le, however, added that China knows Vietnam is not likely to side with the USA militarily to challenge Chinese expansion. That dread is rooted in China's growing military muscle and regional economic influence as well as the increasingly acquiescent policies of other regional claimant states, namely the Philippines under pro-China President Rodrigo Duterte.

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