U.S. aircraft carrier in Vietnam for historic visit

USS Carl Vinson's arrival marks biggest U.S. military presence since 1975 and comes at a time China seeks to expand influence in South China Sea.

A United States 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.

The USS Carl Vinson anchored two nautical miles off the port city of Danang, which was a key battleground during the war that ended in 1975.

The visit is meant to demonstrate the countries' growing military ties.

"We've seen several, so yes, we've seen Chinese ships", Rear Admiral John Fuller, Commander, Carrier Strike Group 1, told reporters in Danang. Last year, the US transferred a decommissioned Coast Guard cutter to Vietnam and signed a three-year plan for defense cooperation.

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The Vinson's visit also sends a message to China as that country continues to develop reefs in the disputed South China Sea and claim control over the vast area.

The Carl Vinson, a symbol of US naval might, can carry at least 70 aircraft.

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Its visit to Vietnam comes amid concerns in the capital about China's efforts to militarize disputed islands, which received support from fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in January.

The arrival of the Vinson marks the biggest USA 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.

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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.

The visit includes friendly basketball and soccer matches between United States sailors and locals, along with an orphanage visit and navy band concerts. In response, the administration of former President Barack Obama launched a policy of using U.S. Navy vessels and aircraft to patrol the South China Sea and assert freedom of navigation rights.

The former Coast Guard cutter Morgenthau was transferred to Vietnam previous year, becoming the largest ship in the nation's fleet.

Vietnam's foreign ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said the visit will "contribute to maintaining peace, stability, security, cooperation and development in the region".

Separately from this week's mission, USA 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. In May 2017, Vietnam hosted a Japanese helicopter carrier in Cam Ranh Bay for what was called a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief drill.

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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.

  • Ryan Wade