For the first time since the Vietnam War finished, a U.S. aircraft carrier arrived in Vietnam on Monday showing the developing strategic ties between former enemies as a result of China’s rising regional influence.
Reuters reports that the grey and imposing silhouette of the USS Carl Vinson could be seen on Monday morning from the cliff tops just outside the central Vietnamese city of Danang, where the 103,000-tonne carrier and two other U.S. ships begin a five-day visit.
“The visit marks an enormously significant milestone in our bilateral relations and demonstrates U.S. support for a strong, prosperous, and independent Vietnam,” Daniel Kritenbrink, the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, said in a statement.
“Through hard work, mutual respect, and by continuing to address the past while we work toward a better future, we have gone from former enemies to close partners.”
Vinson’s visit is the biggest U.S. military presence in Vietnam since 1975 and is a result of Hanoi’s complex and evolving relationship with Beijing over the disputed South China Sea.
According to Reuters, several diplomats and others familiar with the talks said that Vietnamese envoys had been working for months to ease the concerns of their giant Chinese neighbor over the visit and the prospect of broader security cooperation between Hanoi and Washington. Naval officers that are stationed in the region say that U.S. carriers frequently sail the South China Sea in a growing pattern of naval deployments, and Chinese naval vessels are regularly shadowing them.
Reuters also wrote that China’s rapid construction and build-up of the land it holds in the disputed Spratly islands group has alarmed Vietnam and other regional governments as it seeks to enforce its claims to much of the disputed waterway, through which some $3 trillion in trade passes each year.
Vinson’s deployment has been used by many Chinese officials to ask for additional Chinese naval presence in the South China Sea. The aircraft carrier trip was firstly announced during U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis two-day visit to Hanoi as well as months of backroom military diplomacy between Hanoi and the Pentagon.