United States carrier on historic Vietnam visit amid sea rift with China

USS Carl Vinson

The USS Carl Vinson docked in Manila Bay on Feb. 18. Navy

This is the first time a US Navy's supercarrier is visiting Vietnam in almost four decades since the war between the former rivals ended.

USS Carl Vinson and two other US Navy vessels were greeted in the port of Danang on Monday, marking the largest American military presence in the country since the Vietnam War in 1955-1975.

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. "We hope to continue the same issue that we've always had, and that is to promote security, prosperity, and stability in the region".

The USS Carl Vinson is anchored at Tien Sa Port in Danang, Vietnam, Monday, March 5, 2018.

"The Philippines has just rolled over, China is continually militarising and if the US doesn't maintain a presence in the region, Vietnam's got nowhere to hide", Thayer said.

In an oblique reference to China, India and Vietnam on Sunday reiterated the importance of achieving a peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific region and agreed to expedite building high-speed patrol boats and early signing of a defence agreement to secure sea lanes in the region.

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

Though US military ships have regularly docked in Vietnam in recent years, this is the first port call for an aircraft carrier.

Apart from the Carl Vinson, the strike group includes the guided-missile cruiser Lake Champlain as well as guided-missile destroyers Wayne E. Meyer and Michael Murphy.

Determined to protect its claims in the South China Sea, Hanoi has emerged as the leading - if not lone - voice of resistance against Chinese maritime assertiveness.

The Trump administration has been quietly increasing the number of USA patrols in the South China Sea, but China has failed to respond as negatively to the patrols as it did during the Obama era. "By letting the USA battle group in its port, the Vietnamese are telling China that it should take Vietnam into account otherwise it may switch to the American side". "Also, we'd like to thank Vietnam for the excellent logistical support that makes this visit possible".

"I do not think it's too late to forestall further militarization, but I think we need to have a comprehensive - and not just a military - strategy for how to deal with this".

The South China Sea is off the coast of Vietnam, and that body of water sees $5 trillion in cargo pass through each year.

The Vietnam War - which Vietnam calls the American War - was protracted and bloody. However, a visit by an aircraft carrier is of a different level and something that government officials in Beijing will be paying close attention to. "Increased cooperation between the two countries in economic, diplomatic and military areas would serve as a counterbalance to Beijing's expansionism".

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