DANANG, Vietnam—A U.S. aircraft carrier arrived on March 5 in Vietnam for the first time since the end of the Vietnam War, dramatically underscoring the growing strategic ties between the former foes at a time when China’s regional influence is rising.
The gray 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-ton carrier and two other U.S. ships begin a five-day visit.
The arrival of the Vinson marks the biggest U.S. military presence in Vietnam since 1975—but it also illustrates Hanoi’s complex relationship with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) over disputed territory in the South China Sea.
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, according to diplomats and others familiar with the talks.
As China seeks a greater presence in the region, U.S. carriers have frequently plied the South China Sea in a rising pattern of naval deployments. The CCP is building a series of artificial islands—designed to serve as air and naval bases—in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. The developments have alarmed Vietnam and other regional governments as China seeks to enforce its claims to much of the disputed waterway, through which some $3 trillion in trade passes each year.
Vinson’s visit was announced when U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis traveled to Hanoi in January, followed by months of backroom military diplomacy between Hanoi and the Pentagon. The carrier’s arrival demonstrates the U.S. and Vietnam’s strengthened military ties, and is likely welcome news to neighboring countries that are nervously eyeing China’s military rise in the region.
Although no U.S. aircraft carrier has been to Vietnam since the end of the war, other, smaller U.S. warships have made high-level visits as ties improved in recent years.
That includes a 2016 visit by submarine tender USS Frank Cable and guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain to Cam Ranh Bay, a crucial logistics complex during the Vietnam War.
A U.S. Navy band will play a concert in Danang during the Vinson’s visit, and sailors from the carrier are scheduled to spend time at a treatment center for people who were exposed to Agent Orange chemicals during the war.
From Reuters. Epoch Times staff member Annie Wu contributed to this report.