US aircraft carrier in historic Vietnam visit
DANANG – Agence France-Presse
A U.S. aircraft carrier arrived in Vietnam on March 4 for the first time since the end of the war, as the former foes bolster military ties in the face of Beijing’s build-up in the disputed South China Sea.
The U.S.S. Carl Vinson will make a four-day port call to the central city of Danang for a highly symbolic trip that will include a visit to a center for victims of Agent Orange, the toxic defoliant sprayed over large swathes of land by the US during the Vietnam war.
But ongoing tensions in the South China Sea loom over the trip as Beijing continues to build artificial islands capable of hosting military installations - much to the chagrin of Vietnam and other claimants to the sea.
Though the U.S. is not a claimant to the resource-rich waterway, it has long lobbied for freedom of navigation in the sea to counter China’s growing influence.
Analysts say the port call, which follows a visit to the Philippines last month, is a chance for the United States to flex its military muscle in Asia.
“It’s a U.S. push... to demonstrate a massive naval presence in the South China Sea area to China, that the U.S. is staying engaged,” Vietnam expert Carl Thayer told AFP ahead of the trip.
Duterte has refused to implement a landmark 2016 international tribunal ruling in Manila’s favor over its competing claims with Beijing.
“The Philippines has just rolled over, China is continually militarizing and if the U.S. doesn’t maintain a presence in the region, Vietnam’s got nowhere to hide,” Thayer said.
The visit is also being touted as a key landmark between the former bitter enemies, whose relations have seen an extraordinary turnaround since the end of the war in 1975.