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US Aircraft Docked in Vietnam

06 March 2018

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.

The San Diego-based aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson will make a historic port call in Vietnam, the first time a ship of its size has visited that country since the end of the Vietnam War.

Talks over the port call first took place after the USS Carl Vinson hosted Vietnam's Deputy Minister of Defence Nguyen Chi Vinh off southern California last October - making him the country's highest-ranking official to tour a U.S. carrier.

"Our nations' relationship has reached new heights in the past few years, and the USS Carl Vinson's port visit to Vietnam is a reflection of that", said US Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Scott Swift.

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In its National Security Strategy (NSS) paper, released last December, the Trump administration identified Vietnam as a "cooperative maritime partner", underlining Hanoi's emergence as a key player in preserving the existing order in the East Asian seascape. The visit of American seamen to Vietnam is connected with the military strengthening of the People's Republic of China in the South China Sea.

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The imposing grey silhouette of the USS Carl Vinson could be seen from the cliff tops just outside the central Vietnamese city of Danang, where the 103,000-tonne carrier and two other United States ships begin a five-day visit.

This has become the first large-scale appearance of US Navy ships in the territorial waters of Vietnam since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975.

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"It's a message to Vietnam, about how much we care about that relationship; it's a message to China, about what they're doing in the region; but it's also a broader message to everyone in the Pacific region, that the United States is here and we're here to stay", Kirby said.

"The carrier has not been here [in Vietnam] for 40 years".

Sailors are expected to participate in cultural and professional exchanges during community service projects and receptions. 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. Some Vietnamese officials are concerned that China could respond to the USA visit by maintaining its own presence in Vietnamese waters.

On Friday, a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman said that she hoped that the visit can "play a constructive role for the region instead of making the regional countries feel anxious". 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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Vietnam has also urged its fellow ASEAN nations to take a stronger stance against China in the South China Sea, though the body has largely chosen not to forcefully challenge Beijing.

US Aircraft Docked in Vietnam